4.7.08

On becoming a citizen of the United States of America

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.


I do not need a paper to remind me of those truths the way I do not need a sworn oath to make me be faithful to the honorable freedoms and ideals I uphold because, I believe in them so. And yet, like Mr. Medina, I mentally tacked on a finally to this moment. After 23 years of living here as the daughter of a diplomat, as an international worker and a married resident, I am now finally, a citizen in my own right rather than a sanctioned dweller. There is a resolution of sorts within that journey if only because it marks the official end of my being considered a foreigner in this land I call my home. I celebrate that important shift in perception on this Fourth of July day. I hope it was a good one for you also. A safe Independence Day to all of you, no matter in what country you may be.

Milena


17 comments:

  1. Milena, though the shift is subtle and life carries on as before, I can tell you that we're very lucky to have you in this new way. Plus, we may need the extra, intelligent vote in November. :-)

    I could feel the power of the moments you described.

    I'm cheering inside for Mr. Medina. And for you. Finally, indeed.

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  2. Happy 4th of July to you, my newly-minted official citizen friend. My congratulations to you...

    Last night, we celebrated the 4th at the ambassador's residence. It was touching to hear the sincere congratulations from many different countries- one even went so far as to declare, this day was "the most important day for the whole world". I suspect one of the reasons that might be true is the refuge and haven the United States has provided for so many.

    We may not do it perfectly (and I bitch about it often enough) but truly, as my husband says, "The ideals that our country is founded on don't change no matter who is in power."

    May the coming years see a return to the America we absolutely can (and should!) be. With citizens like you, I am hopeful.

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  3. Milena,

    I've taken the liberty of expanding your audience for this post at my place.

    I'd say, Welcome to America; but, that doesn't quite do it, does it?

    How about, thanks for sticking around for twenty-three years, and committing to stay with us for the long haul.

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  4. Yes...congrats on now being able to vote which also entitles you to bitch and moan about US politics with a new kind of vigor and vituperation (not sure that's a word?). We're proud to have you on board!

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  5. Congratulations! I'm not sure much more can be said. It may not seem like a big step outwardly, but inside it I'm sure it stirs quite a lot!

    Also thanks for brainpop.com

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  6. Jennifer: I was cheering for Mr. Medina too. You may count on my vote. I registered as a voter that very same day. Thank you. I feel lucky to now belong in this way too.

    Nona: The husband has it right. I try not to lose sight of this whenever I feel frustrated with whatever is going on. Thanks for the congratulations. I hope that I may do my adopted country credit.

    Dave: I'll accept the thank you. I'll hopefully stick around for more than that. What a very nice thing you've done for me by featuring my blog. Thanks!

    Cce: I'm proud to be on the boat! How about we B&M together?

    PP: I was sure you'd like Brain Pop, it is a fabulous site. I go there all the time even though my son will not be able to use it for at least another decade. Thank you for the good wishes. I appreciate them.

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  7. Milena, many congrats what a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday. Does it make you feel any different today?

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  8. Half-Past Kissin' TimeJuly 5, 2008 at 10:46 PM

    Congrats, again! HOORAY! Your post finally showed up in my Reader!! Did you do something?

    Didn't make it to the post office today (sorry). I'll go on MOnday.

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  9. Milena, Your post was so eye-opening. I am your opposite. I've grown up in middle america my whole life, taking citzenship for granted, because I've never had to think about it. Thank you for your words here, it took me on a much-needed journey.

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  10. happy 4th of July to you! I am halfway around the world but I am happy to think that you liked my posts about the beach & edward norton! =) HE'S ONE OF THE BEST, RIGHT?

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  11. Hello, Fellow American.
    This is a great account of the ceremony. It is all rather mind boggling, isn't it? The many stories, the many people, the many backgrounds. What a country! Thanks!

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  12. Happy 4th of July for you also...Nice article here

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  13. I found your site on Half-Past Kissin' Time. Congrats on citizenship. You have a great place here, I will be back for sure!

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  14. Congratulations girl! I am so happy for you (and also happy that I can now bring up your site in my google reader... although of course, I realize, your news is just a little bigger and more important. :))

    Cheers for you! Now, go put on some white tube socks and head to McDonalds... you are officially an American!

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  15. Suzanne: Thank you. And not really. We had Argentinian parrillada (barbecue) like we always do, watched a parade and then the fireworks at the mall on tv. Same old same old.

    Barb: Yes! I cant' tell you how I fixed it but I did. So happy it is up and running again. Don't sweat it. Send it when you can.

    Her: Glad you got something out of it and welcome to my blog. I found yours pretty interesting. And, I don't think you appreciate your own citizenship any less, it is just that you are used to having yours. For me it is new, that's all.

    Hesitant Wife: I know where you are and that place is like paradise. I was sooooo wishing those were my feet in the sand. Edward Norton is the dishiest. That you like him as much as I do only corroborates my suspicion that we have a Norton fan club in the making.

    Ron: Thanks. And you are right, melting pot doesn't even begin to cover it. What a country indeed!

    World Peace: Thank you very much.

    Manic Mom: I've seen you commenting over at B's place. Thank you for coming over and I appreciate the good wishes. I do hope you come back.

    K: McDonald's? Not in a million years. But I might give the bobby socks a try. Are they the same thing as tube socks? As to the reader, like I told HPKT, No clue how I fixed it but I did. Now it should show up in every reader on the planet. Amen to that.

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  16. Congrats on your new citizenship.

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  17. Hello!

    I am contacting you because I am working with the authors of a book about blogs, and I'd like to request permission to use a photograph of yours in this book. Please contact me at hannah@wefeelfine.org, and I'd be happy to give you more information about the project. Please paste a link to your blog in the subject field. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Hannah
    hannah@wefeelfine.org

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