Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The post you've been waiting for

Though it's hardly breaking news by now! On March 9, I was sworn in as a naturalized US citizen!

After the swearing-in ceremony, my friends kept asking me if I felt any different. Well, I didn't, really. I was happy that people I loved were there to be with me. Later, though, was a different story.

I wore a khaki suit that won rave reviews at my internship. The day I wore it to work I knew it was the suit I was going to wear to the ceremony. I even wore lipstick.

John's mom came with me and John and Der and BB, Samia, and Brigida met us at Federal Plaza. Samia got there before us and they let her in and she saved a whole mess of seats for us. BB met us outside the building and I have no idea when Brigida showed up. John waited for her outside for a while but then he had to come in. I eventually saw her moments before the ceremony began, and I was so relieved. She was with us when John adopted Derek and I really couldn't imagine her not being there for this ceremony.

I really wish Anu and Bellie could have been there. And maybe one of my brothers. You know, I didn't really care to become a citizen until I started law school and realized I wanted to work in government. I didn't even start law school with that intention. I wanted to focus on Copyright Law. And, now, look at me. Labor and Administrative Law. Whoda thunk it?

Anyhoo, it was nice to have so many people there. One agent asked me if I brought everybody. I think I did.

We sat around chatting and me pacing, don't ask me why. It was hardly a nerve-wracking situation. I was calmer somehow at the interview! Afterwards, I realized how big a deal this was to me. More about that later.

They called in groups of people by sections. Naturally, I was in the last section and there were about 100 people. I think they called everyone who was left because I'm pretty sure earlier groups that went in didn't even have 50 people. Oh well, I guess even USCIS agents have lives and want a half day on Friday.

They swear people in every Friday, so the agents have it down to a fairly precise science. They separated the swearees from their guests and sent us to where we were supposed to sit. I had to turn around to see John et al, but I could see them and they could see me.

Each seat for the newbies had an envelope and a small American flag on it. The envelope had a letter from the President (cool!), a copy of the US Constitution and other stuff. Someone gave Derek his own flag, so we are now a 2-flag family.

I sat between a man from Pakistan and a man from the Dominican Republic. Me and Mr. Pakistan hit it off right away and pretty much giggled through most of the thing. Not of course, when we were supposed to be paying rapt attention!

Some guy came to the podium and said some stuff and then he called out every country that was present in the room and the people had to stand up. Naturally, the WIndians made the most noise - Barbados and Jamaica represent - and I was the only Trini, so I yelled real loud and totally cracked up Mr. Pakistan.

When he was done and everyone was standing, we recited the Oath of Citizenship, which is NOT the same as the Pledge of Allegiance. We did that, too, but after the country song.

Yes, they played us a country song. They made us wave our flags to a country song, and sing along. Me and Mr. Pakistan were in stitches but we waved and sang. Good thing, too, otherwise we'd have got yelled at and pulled into the naughty corner!

A man behind us was apparently not getting into the spirit of flag-waving and country-song-singing and was being lectured by an agent about one of the things you agree to do when you become a citizen is to respect the flag. Caught up in mirth, I turned around and told him to wave his flag. Before the words were out of my mouth I realized it was not something jokey, but getting serious. The man said nothing while the agent was talking and the only thing he did say was that he did have flag and he put it in his envelope. And he said it to me. I turned around and sang my song.

But it didn't end there. Me and Mr. Pakistan were giving each other the eye throughout the whole scene because we couldn't figure out why the agent was on that man's case. At the end of the song, which was fairly long, we all stood up and prepared to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone faced the flag closest to them and recited.

Two lines in, I heard and felt this slapping against my row. I turn to the right and see the same agent slapping his file against the back of the last seat in the row and pointing furiously at the man behind me. W.T.F?

I am trying to be both a Trini and a Yank, now: I trying to maco AND recite the pledge! Next thing I know, the agent pulls out the man and take him behind a curtain. I nearly ran home for my "1984".

We sat down and were told that our naturalization certificates were going to be handed out. They were organized by row and we were told to stay in our seats until we get them, check them for errors, and then we can leave. Derek came over and the Australian woman next to Mr. Pakistan thought he was our child. Mr. Pakistan's American wife came over at the same time and we all had a good laugh when I said Der was mine. The Aussie chick looked like she wanted to die dead right there.

I never found out what happened to the man after he went behind the curtain. I left with my group. Brigida went back to work and we took the rest to The Ivy's for a late lunch.

It was great fun. I didn't expect to have such a good time. The agents ran a good show and I guess since we've all been put through the wringer to get to that point, we deserved a celebration, country song and all!

We went home and I slept for four hours! Then I got up and registered to vote as a Democrat. THAT was the most empowering thing. When you think about it, for me personally, not a lot has changed from being a permanent resident to being a citizen. I can vote, work for the federal govt, and get drafted. There are other things, of course, like federal programs I can qualify for, run for office, and other stuff.

I think right then I realized that something really big had happened. I belong here, now. I was very conflicted about becoming a citizen because I felt I would be betraying home, somehow. Not that I have to give up my Trini citizenship, or even give up the feeling that there will always be home. Now I feel ... I don't know. It's odd belonging to 2 places at once.

I also didn't expect to feel happy. I thought the process would be really serious and somber, but it was really celebratory and fun and there was a country song. I waved a flag and sang along with a country song and my husband, son, mother-in-law, and 3 friends were there to see me do it. I wish I could have brought everyone. I wish all of John's friends could have come and my big son and my brothers and my law school and work chums and everyone I knew from Journalspace. I thought of everyone I ever met since I moved here and felt glad to have met them because, in their small way, each one of them made me feel good about standing there waving my flag, singing along to a country song.