Yesterday I became a U.S. Citizen, some of you have asked me about the ceremony. For those of you who don’t know, even after you pass the Interview (civics, reading and writing English) you are not yet a Citizen. You must attend an Oath Ceremony and be sworn in. I applied last August, 2010, I was fingerprinted in September, my interview was in December and yesterday, I was sworn in.
We, all 151 of us from 59 countries, were scheduled to arrive at 1pm for the ceremony. Many of us, well trained by the queues associated with immigration processing, were there at noon. The first approximately 1.5 hours was spent being processed (the ceremony was about 40 minutes itself). It happened in two phases. First the families were asked to leave the waiting area and wait elsewhere since the lobby area was now getting rather full. From 1-2pm we revisited questions that we’d had to address on the form. The Oath Ceremony form has a list of questions that you are required to answer for the time period since interview to the date of the ceremony. So, I was asked whether my marital status was the same, whether I’d been a prostitute or received any type of citation including ones for traffic.The purpose of this is to have one final round of judging my “good moral character.” Yes, that’s the phrase, and what it usually consists of is not getting into any trouble and if you do make it minor and pay up quickly. Also, pay everything else you owe on time, like taxes.
Perhaps more interestingly the officer who asked me these questions then asked me what my favorite football team was. He’d offered Liverpool so I knew he meant soccer and told him about Norwich City. He was excited that they had moved up a league and were doing well in the Championship cup. He congratulated me.
Ceremony check-in phase two occurred as we were led into the Oath room. Having confirmed my continued good moral character it was time for me to see my Naturalization certificate. I wouldn’t get to keep it but I did get to look it over. I handed in my Permanent Resident card. I’ve carried that card at all times since 2004 as legally required, so it felt strange to give it up. I was handed a small laminated plastic card with the number 69 on it, which would correspond to my seat and form the order in which I would eventually post-ceremony receive my certificate.
So after 19.5 years, my evidence of legal status for this was a laminated card.
The families of the inductees (is that the right word?) were let in. They sat behind us, and we all listened to a description of the emergency evacuation proceedings. There was a small piece of me that did wonder whether there would be some emergency and that I would end up leaving the building with nothing but the number 69 proving that I was a legal alien entitled to work and live in the country.
On my chair in the room was a small flag, the New Citizen’s Almanac, a copy of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and an envelope containing a Message from POTUS.
Fortunately, at this point the lights dimmed and a video started playing showing us scenes from around the country. Then we listened to the Star Spangled Banner. As an almost new American I was learning right away as the text to the words was being shown, every sentence that I had thought was a statement was actually a question. After the song, we did the country call. Each nation represented in the room was read out by the Ceremony official in alphabetical order and the people born there were invited to stand. The officiating officer asked us all to clap and cheer as people stood. It was impressive to hear how many countries were represented and to see the numbers that got up for each call.
Then we all took the Oath and became Americans. After that we listened to a message from Barack Obama and then the song Proud to be an American. This, I admit is my least favorite song about America, but in that room I was reminded that for some people this swearing in did represent a switch to the type of values that the song promotes. My journey felt different, and I would have prefered America the Beautiful since that always reminds me of the things I like most about America.
And then I turned in my laminated plastic number and received my Naturalization certificate and we left. Later on, K&I went out to celebrate and I still had my small flag in my bag, that led to some celebrations and a free beer for me. I can see I am going to like this country.