Almost 13 years ago, I stepped off a 747 at the Seattle airport and found myself in America for the first time. Everyone spoke English. Everything was flashy and different. I ate a really gross sandwich and wasn’t sure how to pay for it. I was dazzled.
Since then, the wonder has somewhat worn off. It turned out that the people speaking English could be just as silly as the people speaking Chinese, all the flashy things I was so mesmerized by were advertisements, and the food really could be that bad on a regular basis. So, it was less with childish exuberance than slightly cynical curiosity that I approached the last step in my (long, long, long!) journey to American citizenship.
As expected, the last step involved a couple of hoops to jump through. No, I couldn’t just take the oath in Boston, they said, because they would have to transfer all of my files which would take months! longer and there was a high possibility they would get totally lost in the shuffle. So, in the middle of my first week of classes, I trekked to Logan and took a late flight to Ohio.
The ceremony started at 10, but we were instructed to be there by 8:30. I shuffled into the courthouse in my uncomfortably high heels with 40 other long-ago immigrants, all of us clutching tightly to an excessive amount of documents “just in case,” all of us wondering if anything could possibly go wrong even now. We represented 29 countries and ran the gamut from 19-73: I was, apparently, the youngest. They lined us up against the cold wall and called us out, one by one, by the last digits of our Alien numbers–one last bureaucratic spite before we were granted personhood–and gave us long, repetitive, silly instructions about where to sit in the courtroom and what we could expect.
We filled out a questionnaire that started out logistical–since your last naturalization interview, have you been married? Traveled outside the US? Been arrested?–and quickly got nonsensical–since your last interview, have you practice polygamy? Prostituted? Joined an organization, including the Communist Party? “Been a habitual drunkard”? We registered to vote, we proofread our own certificates, and then–finally–the judge came in. We listened to the opening shishipoopoo ritualistic court stuff, we introduced ourselves to the judge, and then we had to take the oath.
I was curious about how 40 people taking the long, complicated oath to citizenship would pan out. Turns out, they were worried about it too. Instead, the judge simply read the whole oath, and the lot of us only had to raise our right hands and say “I do.” My mom later scolded me for making funny faces instead of looking happy during the oath, but I’m still not sure how I feel about defending the U.S. from undefined “all enemies” and promising to bear arms without mental reservations.
Despite my cynicism, though, I have to admit it was kind of cool. The simple (though protracted) ceremony made some big changes. I renounced some foreign princes & potentates, and all of a sudden, my trusty Chinese passport with a picture of 7-year-old-me in it was defunct. The judge said some words and gave me a piece of paper, and all of a sudden my identity is hyphenated. I still can’t be president, but boy, can I vote for one now. (And yes, I am really psyched to vote in this election year. Dubya will have been president for 40% of my life when he leaves office–how horrendous is that? Anything will probably be better, but I’m personally rooting for Obama.) And I am now, basically, indeportable. Always a good thing.
P.S. On the way home, we saw a guy dressed as the Statue of Liberty, waving to cars on a street corner in the rain. He wasn’t even advertising anything. One point for America.
P. P. S. Did you know that to apply for a passport, a college ID is apparently more credible than a temporary driver’s license because it’s not temporary? And that though a Certificate of Naturalization counts as ID, the post office won’t take it because there isn’t such an option on the form? Everything is crazy.