It is election season in our country and one critical message is needed in the information we provide to the newly naturalized community members as well as others who have become Americans through the naturalization process: We have earned the right to vote. We must vote as if we fought a war and won, that we are true patriots in this nation.

Unlike those who are born with the right to vote in this country, we naturalized citizens had to qualify to be Americans. We took the Oath of Allegiance. Our vote counts and it counts well.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

That will be on my mind as I cast my vote in this country this November and for the rest of my life. This is not only about the rights and responsibilities they read to us during our naturalization ceremony, it is more than that. If you have ever attended one you probably came away with some emotions and maybe tears in your eyes,  feeling changed for life as you saw new Americans from different backgrounds raise their right hands unanimously as they read together the Oath of Allegiance.

At my naturalization ceremony in Portland in the cold January of 2020 in front of Sen. Angus King and other dignitaries, I felt I was being born once again. The cold January air felt different that day. But the day was not complete until I sat down with the League of Women Voters. Journalists recorded as my hands slightly shook with joy when I signed up for my political party in this country and registered to vote. I remember asking “Did this just happen?”

Before 2020 I had never voted in my entire life. I never had any legal or government issued documents in Somalia, or the rights and responsibilities as a citizen. To be able to vote in the United States as a registered Maine voter truly meant the gift of my life.

America gave me the right to vote alongside other Americans. This could not happen anywhere else. Then I see new Americans who don’t value hard-earned citizenship. Many don’t even want us to vote because we are not full Americans. I meet African Americans who are thinking of finding their way to the continent of Africa, moving out of the U.S. I meet Somalis in my own community who think it is time to leave the United States due to the racism and growing hate towards immigrants, and that we are not accepted as complete citizens here. I have met white native-born Mainers seriously considering moving to Canada. And those others who don’t even want to say the words God Bless the United States any more because no one wants to bless a racist country?

I understand the frustrations, but to be very clear I am not in any group looking to leave this country. I fought for what I have now, so why give it all up?

I like to think of the African proverb: once you carry your own water you will remember the value of water. At ages 7 and 8, my brother and I rolled jerry cans of water in the dark of the night a mile downhill for our mother and young sister. She had always told me that I should feel blessed in anything earned, including the water. This is how I feel about my earned right to vote and no one can take this from me. You may choose to leave, you may choose to not vote, but those of us who earned this right to vote will vote, that makes us the true American patriots.

Comments are not available on this story.