Denver Bar Association
November 2008
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Proud to be an American

by Mariya Barmak

As the end of the 2008 election season nears, the names of Barack Obama and John McCain have become the main topic of conversations among families, friends, coworkers and even total strangers sitting next to each other on a bus! It is almost impossible to turn on the TV without seeing irritating campaign ads. For some reason, this time of year always reminds me of the day that my family and I first came to the United States: January 10, 1994.

I was 14 when we immigrated to the United States from Latvia. At the time, Latvia was a newly independent country in Eastern Europe. Because of fervent nationalism and anti-Semitism in Latvia and other former Soviet republics, many people, including Jews, Russians, Gypsies and other "non-Latvian" minorities were denied citizenship. Even today, unfortunately, more than 400,000 people still live without citizenship in Latvia, a country of about 2.3 million people, according to a 2007 report from Amnesty International.
The author, Barmak, with her friend Matt, visiting the Washington, D.C. and the Washington Monument soon after arriving to the U.S. in 1994.

However, here in the United States, being Jewish, Russian, or anything else, is not a barrier to becoming a United States citizen (if you immigrate here legally, of course). Six years after I came to this country and made my home in its most beautiful state, Colorado (okay, I am a little biased), I became a U.S. citizen on May 19, 2000. My family will be forever grateful to the country that adopted us and accepted us as its own.

My youngest cousin, who is considering applying to law school, recently asked me why I decided to become a lawyer. So, I pulled out my law school application essay. I wrote that I wanted to go to law school to give something back to what, in my view, was the best country in the world, despite its imperfections. More than six years later, after three years of practicing law, and despite many friends and colleagues telling me that becoming jaded is inevitable, the United States is still the best in my mind.

I still believe that all of us regardless of our religion, ethnicity or political perspective, are extremely lucky to live here. Since becoming a United States citizen, my travels have taken me abroad many times, to new and exciting places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Jamaica. Each time I return, the best part of the trip is the person at the immigration and customs booth who stamps my passport and says, "Welcome Home."

Barmak as a young child enjoying the snow in Latvia.
Every day, regardless of demanding deadlines and the legal research that seems to have no end or other challenges at work, looking at my naturalization certificate that hangs on the wall in my office makes me feel better. I am blessed and, as long as I am here, will somehow handle whatever comes my way.

I still have not made up my mind about who to vote for. Having lived in both Boulder and Colorado Springs over the years, both of these Colorado political polar opposites rubbed off on me to some extent. However, even though Barack Obama and John McCain, as representatives of their respective political parties disagree on particular issues, in my opinion they both care about this country and its well-being. I am reminded of what former President Bill Clinton said at his 1993 inauguration, that, "there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." I cannot help but feel that we will be okay, regardless of who the next President may be.

God bless America.


Mariya Barmak is an assistant attorney general with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Previously, she worked as a deputy district attorney with the Office of the District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District, in Colorado Springs. Barmak graduated from the University of Denver College of Law in December 2004.

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