GREENBELT. — On the 215th anniversary of the Declaration that it is ''self-evident that all men are created equal,'' American pride is not be limited only to those born here. Millions of immigrants have come to the United States in search of the American Dream. I am proud to be one of them.
Born poor in a little town, Jigjiga, in Western Somalia, I had slim chances to succeed in turbulent black Africa. Opportunities are determined by the dictators and the massive bureaucracy that run the country at gun-point. Freedom of thought, of expression, of association and of religion are deemed to be diseases promoted by the subversive West. And economic opportunity -- in a society in which the nominally socialist government controls nearly all aspects of the economy -- is limited to the elite few.
Those were among the reasons that led me to look for an escape to America, where millions of people from all over the world have been recognized not as members of classes or groups, but as individuals, who had, as Thomas Jefferson put it, the ''inalienable'' right to ''life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.''
Six years ago, after a decade of planning, my plane landed at New York's Kennedy airport. As I saw the statue of Lady Liberty, the words ''give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,'' came to my mind, and tears flowed down my cheek.
Much to my delight, I found America to be a country full of individuals with a strong belief in themselves, guided by the principle that each of us will fail or succeed in life by our own efforts, ambitions and dreams. I took this to heart and strove to become just like them. A new American. Unlike most of them, I didn't know the language, the culture or the history of the New World. I had a lot of catching up to do.
I signed up for English courses at Montgomery Community College, where I met many friends from Asia, South America and Africa. In the evenings and weekends, I worked at McDonald's to make some money for tuition and books. Within two semesters, I was taking math, history and English classes, this time, with native-born Americans. Several became my first real friends in this country.
As I assimilated into the American culture and way of life, I couldn't help but be interested in the political discussions that surrounded the 1988 presidential campaign. Given my experience of living in a small country with a big government, I was naturally inclined to support the party of Ronald Reagan, and Abraham Lincoln before him, which stood for reducing the power of the state and increasing the opportunity of the individual and the family. When I began to support conservative causes in the campus newspaper -- low taxes, strong national defense, educational vouchers and punishment, not sympathy, for criminals -- I made friends as well as adversaries. But this was my first exercise in a political discourse in a free society, where ideas are cherished, and I loved it.
I then began to think not only of my new freedoms, but of my new loyalties. Choosing a brand new national loyalty was not a difficult decision. Last April 26, I sat in a Baltimore courtroom for my citizenship ceremony with 95 other immigrants to whom America had given a second lease on life. I couldn't help but notice tears flowing from the eyes of grown men with gray hair, whose breath was taken away by becoming citizens of a country they have come to love. I, too, wept openly.
This may sound odd to you native Americans, but this country really is a shining city on a hill, to which the persecuted can turn. The democratic maxim, ''all men are created equal,'' has made America the hope of mankind.
Abdul Rahman Abdi, an economics major at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.