I was born in India. As I got older, I wanted to be a U.S. citizen. Life was hard in India.
I was fortunate. At the age of six, I was adopted into an American family. Being in America has brought me numerous opportunities I would never have had in India.
For instance, at the age of four, I developed polio, which left me unable to walk. India had no vaccines to ward off this disease as America does.
When my family adopted me, they immediately took me to doctors to see if anything could be done for my legs. I was fortunate to be able to have surgery, and although I have the assistance of crutches, I am still lucky to be able to walk.
My main reason for wanting to be a U.S. citizen was for the sense of "belonging." Everyone in my family is a citizen of the United States. I wanted that same status.
Last year, my dad, who is a UCC minister, was asked to do a prayer at a citizenship ceremony. He took me along to see what it was like.
A lot of people got their citizenship that day in a long ceremony. I watched as they took their oaths and pledged allegiance to the flag. I had a wonderful feeling in my heart as I witnessed this emotional bond they all seemed to have. I wanted that bond, too.
My family had begun the paperwork, but because of a new law that says a child under 18 adopted abroad is automatically a citizen (The Child Citizenship Act of 2000), I didn't have to wait long.
On May 14, 2001, I received my gift of U.S. citizenship. I stood just like those people did last year. As the oath was read to me I raised my right hand and said, "So help me God." I felt proud and happy. With God's help, I will be the best U.S. citizen.
The same is true with my faith and my church.
I intend to be the best member within my church family as well. I attend Pilgrim Congregational UCC, in Cleveland, Ohio. I've only been a member of Pilgrim for a few months, since my family recently relocated from New York.
Now, as a U.S. citizen and a member of Pilgrim, I am complete. I have my family, friends, church and God.
Rajee Elizabeth Aerie, 17, lives in Columbia Station, Ohio, and attends Columbia High School.