Photo by a2gemma
Two days ago there were one thousand nine hundred and eleven of us at the ceremony. We represented 110 of the 195 established countries of this world. We were all ages, all stages of life between the young and the old, all conditions of living between the healthy and the infirm, all the mirrored disparity of the affluent and the poor.
Our skins reflected the gamut of our racial spectrum. Our attire reflected the respect which we'd thought to bring to this day. We came in the company of our families, by the hands of our husbands, holding on to our wives, flanked by our children, supported by our close friends. It was a day marked by an atmosphere of expectancy and of relief. It was grounded in the sensation of imminent completion, in the anticipation of an awaited final step in the road to naturalization.
There were flags painted on the walls, anchored ceremonially in the stands that stood on the auditorium floor, there were representations in plastic and balsa of the most conspicuous symbol of Americanism, held in our waving hands. In lapels I saw small metallic likenesses of the bald eagle, a dollar bill, red and blue stars; someone sported an I am an American pin, God Save the USA even read the ink of one man's tattooed arm.
For the long hours of wait until the ceremony of oath-taking took place, a musical potpourri of John Philip Sousa marches and Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World had been put together before the rousing impulse of Anchors Aweigh gave way to yet another repeat of the moving America the Beautiful. I have no idea what the cheesy theme song from the movie Dirty Dancing was doing in the play roster but what it lacked in patriotic credentials was more than compensated by the mental distraction of its sing-along charm.
Concession stands sold the most American of food fares: hot dogs, hamburgers, fries with ketchup, sodas and, because this is Texas, there were breakfast burritos; and because this is the US, the little girl said, "they don't taste as good as McDonalds mommy," and because I have yet to taste a McDonalds burrito, I could neither confirm nor deny the veracity of her discerning taste.
When the judge officiating this ritualistic induction into the privileges of US citizenship walked into the room, we all rose except for those too frail or too sick to stand. Amongst them, Lorenzo Medina, aged 95, who sat in a wheelchair while his granddaughter held a home-made sign with the words Congratulations! and Finally! stenciled in black for all to understand the longed for arrival of this day in her grandfather's life.
An honor guard of four boy scouts, the youngest of which had a brother and a father becoming citizens in this particular ceremony, marched to the center of the floor from where they saluted the judge and then the sole INS lawyer who was there to represent our collective interests before finally turning to us, the audience of applicants. This courtesy they gave felt symbolic, fraught with the intangibleness of a moment that never banked on its power, nor the emotion it did not know it could engender. Many teared up at this small token of pomp. It felt cosmic in the way that cosmic happenings seem to have no reason because they just simply are.
Afterwards, we all sang the National Anthem. All together we pledged allegiance to the Flag. As one voice we renounced our previous nationalities and promised to protect, honor, defend and obey the Constitution of the United States. We swore we would bear arms for our adoptive country. We said it would be our privilege to do so and just like that, after all the swearing and pledging, it was suddenly done.
Invisibly, we were now citizens who were readying to empty a large stadium, citizens who were receiving an official document to confirm the validity of our changed state. Citizens who climbed into their cars to go home to the routine of those same days we lived in before we were made - citizens. Citizens because the judge said so and because his word is the law.
In my car seat, I sat staring at my shiny certificate. It told me nothing new, I felt nearly the same even as I understood that this proof of my citizenship proved something to others, rather than to me. That's because, for many a year, I have been a non-official citizen of this country as much as I will always be an official citizen of the Panama that saw me born.
Photo by a2gemma