Seeing as the country is in a post-election hangover and no one is really taking much note of anything, I thought I’d do a rerun by sharing an experience that few Americans get to experience–becoming a citizen in an election year.
My citizenship swearing in took place at the Masonic Auditorium in ’07. I knew I’d arrived at the right place when I saw Ronald Reagan and Gandalf leaning against red, white and blue ironing boards. These weren’t real people, just cardboard cutouts.
But what did cardboard cutouts of Reagan, Gandalf and patriotic ironing boards have to do with my swearing in? Well, with the presidential elections just around the corner, newly naturalized citizens give off a honey-like scent to the busy electioneering bees.
Each little ironing board displayed a sign for the two major political parties. Ronald Reagan was a proud symbol for the Republicans, while Gandalf was on hand for the Democrats. Yes, I know what you’re thinking–isn’t he a permanent resident of Middle Earth and therefore not eligible for the presidency? Yes, but I didn’t want to burst anyone’s bubble.
I did see a forlorn sign for presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich, who I believe is representing Narnia in his presidential bid.
Anyhoo, I ran the gauntlet of campaigners who shoved paper into my hands before I made it up the steps to the auditorium’s doors.
The lobby was filled foreigners lined up to get inside the auditorium. More lines. I thought I’d gotten past this stage, but it would be for the last time. Unfortunately, this was where Julie and I parted company. The huddled masses and Americans were no longer allowed to sit together. So off I went to check in and Julie took a seat in the observer’s galley.
I took my seat which required me to hand over my green card, but I received a welcome pack, which included a little American flag, but sadly, no gun rack or Stetson.
Music played while I waited for everyone to take their seats. As a connoisseur of trivia, I recognized the music selections. For some reason, they were playing the scores to various sci-fi classics. I sat down to the theme from the original Battlestar Galactica, which was followed by Star Wars, Superman, 2001, and Star Trek (original and Next Generation). I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to get naturalized or inducted into the League of Super Friends. But as a friend pointed out to me, I was an alien.
Eventually, a guy came out to kick start proceedings. He did a nice job of cracking jokes to warm the crowd up. He ran through the morning’s events that included ROTC cadets from a local high school presenting the colors (the flag), which was somewhat creepy. Kids with guns. Icky.
The emcee mentioned how we came from 94 nations but in a few short minutes we’d all belong to one–America. I shifted awkwardly in my seat. This was the tricky part. I was expected to renounce my nationality. I’m proud to be English. I can be many things—and have been called them—but I’ll always be English. It’s who I am. It can’t be changed. I wanted to become a US citizen for very personal reasons, but it comes with a stiff price tag.
Julie had said to me in the run up to this moment, “Are you okay with this?”
I answered yes, because technically while I had to renounce my UK citizenship, the oath only extends to US borders. The UK constitution makes it impossible to renounce my nationality. The rest of the world will recognize me as a dual national. I can live with that.
But here was the big moment. I was standing for the oath of allegiance which included the words “I absolutely and entirely renounce…” This was tougher than I thought. The words were barbed. If I ever felt like a traitor to my nation, it was right then. I had to act fast if I was going to keep myself respect and honor. The director of the San Francisco Immigration field office talked us through the oath. We came
to the hardest words for me to say and I took definitive action–and quietly crossed my fingers behind my back and mumbled the words. It worked during my wedding vows and I think it worked here. 🙂
Now don’t look at me like that. I said the words. Some are easier said than others. Okay?
Actually, I couldn’t stop smiling during the oath. Not everyone got their foreign tongues around the very formal English. I think I overheard someone substitute lyrics from a Tina Turner song, someone else the main ingredients to goulash and another describe how to change a wheel on a Ford pickup. Hey, they told us to do our best and not worry if we fluffed a word or two.
And that was pretty much it. The hard part was over. Voter registration and passport representatives talked and handed out paperwork. Then our names were called to collect our naturalization certificate and we could go our merry way as fresh Americans.
We’d all missed the hustle and bustle of Ellis Island by a hundred years, but we got a taste, as over fourteen hundred people tried to leave the building, drop off their voter registration paperwork and passport applications at the same time. The crush was compounded by another thousand or so loved ones reconnecting with their naturalized family member. I rode the wave of people into Julie’s care and out the door. I said goodbye to Ronald Reagan, had my picture taken with Gandalf–you don’t encounter a wizard every day–and made my merry way to somewhere for lunch.
A sincere thanks to everyone who supported me during that process and to those who have given me their friendship over the years. I wouldn’t be sticking around if it weren’t for you guys.