Naturalized, Not Born...I wasn't born in the States. We emigrated from a Middle Eastern country when I was three years old, and I got my US citizenship when I was thirteen.
I've spent lots of time in my birthplace in the Middle East. And that's why I value my American citizenship so much.
You don't really appreciate your freedom unless you're deprived of it.
You don't appreciate the value of freedom of speech until you see friends incarcerated for voicing opinions different from what the majority of the society believes (one of my friends has been in jail for over a month, because he publicly announced his atheism, and criticized religions, including the native Islam).
You don't appreciate the value of freedom of religion until you see people kidnaped and/or killed for converting from one religion (usually Islam) to another.
You don't appreciate the value of freedom of the press and media and of thought until you see movies, books, tv shows, etc censored and banned (The Da Vince Code [the movie was banned from theaters here because it is "offensive to Jesus", a prophet in Islam and God in Christianity; countless books criticizing Islam have been banned ever since printing was introduced to this country in the 19th century).
You don't appreciate the value of your personal freedom until you have it limited and bound by various "social norms" and unwritten codes; if you are a female, you can't wear short sleeves or shorts in the seven-month long summer, because if you do the **** will be molested out of you, and you won't get much help from the cops, as they will blame it on you for dressing provocatively.
You will get arrested for public indecency if you kiss your sweetheart in public. Oh, and if it's Ramadan, the Muslim month of day-long fasting, you can get in some ugly trouble with the locals - or even the cops - if you eat, drink, or smoke in public.
You don't appreciate the value of the "Liberty and Justice" our American flag stand for until you live in a country where, because you do not an adherent of the state religion, you need official permission from the governor to build your place of worship, and if you ignore that regulation, your place of worship will be burned to the ground by a "pious, law-keeping" mob.
You don't appreciate the value of living in a law-abiding country, where the law is sometimes so rigid it can go against common sense, until you reside in a country where not even a rule regulating which doors are "Enter" and which are "Exit" on the subway is enforced.
You don't appreciate having civil rights groups lobbying for gay rights - even if you do not agree with homosexuality - until you live in a country where a majority party wants to add a clause in the constitution allowing the marriage of 9-year old girls if they are pubescent... a country where the marriage of a Muslim to a Christian can cause nation-wide sectarian violence.
You do not appreciate the value of separation of Church and State until you have to deal with a country that has "The State's religion is Islam" in the second clause of its constitution.
Maybe PDA on the streets or at the mall bothers you, but I'm sure you'd rather have that than having a band of bearded men stab you in the groin to death because they saw you embracing your girl in a park!
Maybe revealing attire disturbs you, but it's a lot better than having a woman in a niqab whip a pair of scissors out of her purse and snap away at your hair on the subway!
Maybe you dislike that public schools don't have religion classes anymore, but it's a lot better than having a non-Muslim teacher sued because she mentioned Prophet Mohamed without adding "Peace be upon him".
I'm not saying we're perfect. America is not Plato's Utopia. It's not Barrie's Neverland. We've been better. Our country has its shortcomings, our society has its flaws - just like anywhere else on the planet. But what's so great about us is that we are always recognizing those blemishes and working on improving them. If you point out a failing in our country, you're not labeled as a dissident, traitor, or infidel. You can voice your opinion and act on it, and do all you can to realize the change you want.
Never ever lose your pride in this country. Pardon me, Country. And if you ever consider giving up on this great country, consider the alternatives. Are there any other better choices?
Trust me when I say, our "shortcomings" are many other countries' aspirations!
GOD BLESS AMERICA!