Oh Say Can You … Wait?

27 01 2007

Clearly some of us were more excited than others …

We went to my wife’s “Oath Ceremony” today. She was to be granted American citizenship. It was the end of a long road for her. The adventure began at 0830. We left the house and went over to pick up her mom. From there we had to stop at an ATM for some money … we suspected that we were going to have to pay for parking … and it was but the grace of God that I chose to take out $25 … which gave me a $20 and a $5. The $5 wound up being essential to the entire day.

We drove downtown and the first shock of the day hit. They had started a bunch of road construction smack-ass on my planned route … the route that we planned yesterday when we drove by the Federal Courthouse and figured everything out. How in the hell could they fuck shit up that bad in less than twenty four hours? But they did. I do not “do” downtown … and its bullshit one-way streets and absolutely absurd layout. By the time I got near the Federal Courthouse and found a freakin place to park (for which I had to have exactly one $5 bill, or get towed), it was 0920. The letter that my wife was clutching desperately to her chest said we needed to be there at 0930. My wife’s mother walks about .000000003000000021456 mph. I left them in the dirt, dragging my son behind me like a box-kite. My theory was that I could at least get in the building and tell somebody that my wife was in the vicinity, and that she would be along in a few days.

I hit a line. Turns out you have to metal-detect and show I.D. to get into the Federal Courthouse. We regrouped and showed the man our various forms of i.d. He noticed that I was out of breath and made some small comment. I let on as how we sure as heck wouldn’t want to miss THIS particular 0930 appointment. He gave me a funny look, and then told me that the oath ceremony wouldn’t even begin until 1230.

That was when I started to get a little worried.

It took us about ten minutes to get through the metal-detector. For whatever reason I had a crap-load of change in my pockets, and then when I had everything in the little basket, I still beeped going in. “Belt please.” Grrr.

There was some confusion as to where we were supposed to go, beyond “check-point Charlie.” The letter that she had received said “3rd floor, Room: none.” As is usually the case when my wife and I don’t have the faintest idea where we are supposed to go or what we are supposed to do, we start getting snappy with each other. Looking back, I wonder why we even thought it a problem. We found one huge courtroom at the end of a long hall with several hundred people gathered there, most of them looking like they were from a foreign countries. What the hell else would they be doing there?

We were hustled in and told to sit. We picked the back bench, left side. Shortly after that, an attractive and very professional looking black woman stood up and began to speak. She told us how the first part of the process would work … essentially, sit there until your name is called, go down to the front, review your paperwork, turn in your resident card (the infamous green-card, which is not green, by the way) sign your certificate, grab a paper to fill out that will change your social security status from resident to citizen, take a seat number and head on down to the cafe in the basement for coffee and snacks. Be back in this courtroom at 1130 to prepare for the ceremony.

One hour and fifty minutes later, at 1120, when they finally called my wife’s name, it occurred to us that we might not get to join the gang down in the cafe. Or get snacks. My six-year old son was a wonder through it all. He managed to sit through the entire ordeal with only a few episodes of the fidgets, and all I had to do to bribe him was promise to buy him a pet goldfish.

My wife hadn’t even made it back up the aisle after having filled out her paperwork when the man started asking to see people’s numbers. It was time for the applicants to take their seats down in the front, just to the left of the “bench.” Other people were passing out a papers to the onlookers, an itinerary of the naturalization proceedings that would begin at 1200.

Thirty more minutes of waiting. I took the opportunity to explain to my son the significance of what was about to occur, and to advise him that once the guy came in and said “all rise!” there would be a moratorium on fart jokes and tickle games. At one point, the Designated Naturalization Examiner, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security representative wanted the applicants to practice the part where she would read out the names of the various countries from which the applicants had come, at which point the applicant(s) in question where to stand briefly and be recognized. Two interesting things happened at this point. First, when the representative called out Mexico, over half of the 150 some-odd applicants stood up. The onlookers in the gallery began to laugh, presumably because such a large portion of the applicants were (soon to be former) Mexican nationals. It struck me as odd that so many people would laugh. Given the recent attention on illegal immigrants from that country, I think they should have been applauding, rather than laughing. The incident made me uncomfortable. The second incident occurred when the country of Russia was called out. It turned out that the Russian woman didn’t understand or speak English, and the people sitting around her had to quickly devise a signal system where-by the woman could be alerted when it was her turn to stand. I learned later that the incident annoyed the hell out of my wife, and several other applicants to whom she spoke. They were in general agreement that one ought to speak and understand a certain amount of English in order to become an American citizen, particularly since it is one of the requirements set out in the Naturalization process. I tend to agree with them on this point.

At 1200, on the dot, the man said “all rise!” and three judges swooped into the room and took their seats on the bench. The United States District Court, Western District of Oklahoma, was now in session. The Chief Judge made a few remarks, then she asked the Homeland Security rep to present the applicants. There followed a long spiel in which the examiner advised the court that the applicants had met all the requirements, and she asked the court to accept them and administer the Oath of Allegiance.

The courtroom darkened, and on a screen at the back of the room, to the right of the bench, President George Bush appeared to welcome everybody aboard. After that, there was a short and inspiring video, set to the tune of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

The Oath of Allegiance followed, the penultimate point of the proceedings. All of the applicants were asked to stand and raise their right hand. The Clerk of Court read the Oath in parts, and the applicants repeated it.

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

I have to tell you, it was quite an emotional moment for everyone involved. It was as if the importance of what was going on, right before our very eyes, suddenly occurred to everybody. For those few minutes, I completely forgot about all of the discomfort we had endured to get to that point. And as great an emotional impact as it had on me, I cannot begin to imagine what those 150 some-odd applicants were feeling. They had waited for so long, had jumped through so many hoops, had encountered so many unknown and unknowable other difficulties on their long and separate roads to this moment. I would imagine that the discomforts and delays that we went through that morning were as nothing to them.

When they stood up and raised their right hands, they were immigrants, living and working in this country as guests. When they sat back down, they were American citizens. It was the most amazing thing that I have ever seen. There were a lot of teary eyes.

After the oath ceremony, the judges (there were three of them) each made a few brief remarks. The Chief Judge presiding recognized the representatives from the Daughter’s of the American Revolution, and then one of the applicants, a doctor from China, read a short speech that he had been invited to give. He spoke English, to his credit, but I don’t think anybody understood much of what he said through his accent. It didn’t matter, when he was finished, we all applauded and cheered.

Everybody stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance, the Chief Judge made some closing remarks, and then the man banged the gavel and it was over.

Almost. It took another twenty minutes for my wife to actually get her certificate, and then we had to stand in another line for about forty minutes after that to change her social security status from resident to citizen. A young woman from Ghana, dressed in her full military outfit, was filling out her form beside us as we stood in line. My wife (who can be a bit nosy, but generally in a kindly manner) leaned over to the young woman and said “No. You are a citizen now.” The woman had–probably from habit–checked the “resident” box on her form. The look of confidence and relief on my wife’s face, and on the faces of the other newly minted American citizens around me, was transcendental. I would have stood there another four hours, if that was what it had taken, talking and joking with those happy, smiling people.

We left the courthouse at about 0130, and by 0200 we were all sitting in a nice little Mexican restaurant, eating a fine dinner and celebrating. There’s not much to say beyond that. I was very blessed to have had that experience in my life. It’s not the sort of thing that everyone gets to see. I found a quote while searching the Internet, and I think it sums the experience up nicely. It is by a man named George Mardikian. Mr. Mardikian was a naturalized American citizen born in Armenia, and he was awarded the US Medal of Freedom for his service to US servicemen during the Korean war.

You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American — not to have been an American all your life — and then suddenly with the words of a judge in flowing robes to be one, for that moment and forever after. One moment, you belong with your fathers to a million dead yesterdays — the next you belong with America to a million unborn tomorrows.

I don’t think it can be expressed any better than that.

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3 responses

27 01 2007
Anonymous

Lifes in USA are dreams for many many people.

5 02 2007
e_journeys

This had me grinning. Congratulations to your wife and to you all! Wonderfully told.

2 07 2007
robyn

wonderful story told.
Ganesha

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