Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Proud to be an American

We had about a week to prepare. I went in for the Naturalization Test on a Tuesday afternoon. We spent about an hour and a half waiting in a relatively comfortable chair in a large, mostly empty, waiting room. I guess not as many people are seeking immigration and citizenship as they were when the building was designed. L said she had full confidence in me. I had full confidence in passing the civics test, but I had no idea whether there was some obscure rule that would come up that would prevent me from taking the oath.

Finally, I was called by an immigration officer. She saw my wife, and then I left my wife in the hall, and the officer and I went to her office for my interview. I was asked to raise my right hand, swear to tell the truth, and then I sat down and went through the application process.

The first part of this involved simply confirming the details on my application. There'd been one change since I filled it in, and I'd filled it in long before I submitted it, but this wasn't counted against me. I was asked to take a writing and reading test, comprising of simple civics questions and answers (this wasn't the same as the civics test itself.) I think the aim of the test, given the level of skill needed, was more to ensure that you can read road signs and fill in forms rather than read a newspaper or anything like that.

The civics test required I answer seven of ten questions correctly. The ten questions are selected at random from one hundred standardized questions, and you're given a book, and a CD, containing all these questions and the right answers, to study before the interview. Some of the questions are easy, others not quite as easy, but on the day I'd remembered the right answers to all of them. Questions include "What is the highest court in the land", "How many US senators are there", "Who is the President", "Who was President during World War I", "Name a right given to every citizen", "Name two of the three rights described in the Declaration of Independence", "What did Martin Luther King do", and, somewhat bizarrely, "Name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for." I say bizarrely, because the list of "right answers" does not include either flying kites during electrical storms (or anything related to that), nor "inventing" Daylight Savings Time. Those would be my first two answers...

I answered the first seven questions correctly, at which point the officer didn't need to ask any more questions. I think most of them were questions I'd have known the answers to even before I studied. Now, I know a lot of Americans make the comment to me periodically that most Americans wouldn't be able to answer the same questions. I'm not so sure about that, but even if that's true, there's a difference between knowing the history of a country you're born into, and knowing the history of a country you love enough to want to be a part of.

And she did something on the computer, wrote something on a piece of paper, and then casually put the piece of paper in front of me, but just far enough from me to make it look like it wasn't for me. I passed. She was recommending I be given citizenship. And then, to my utter amazement, she printed out another piece of paper and gave it to me - which contained the date of the oath ceremony. And that date... was one week later.

I found my wife, gave her the form, we hugged, and then I repeated to her the fact I was almost certainly going to become an American one week from now. We left rather excited, to put it mildly, making plans, going to a restaurant we like to celebrate, calling everyone we knew, and generally feeling a mix of shock, relief, and thankfulness.

So the next six days were fairly nuts. I had to go to work as normal, and fortunately there was some urgent stuff that kept my mind busy. My wife was busy ordering everything festive she could find from eBay. My mother booked the first flight from across the Atlantic she could find and turned up on Friday evening. L. and I spent the weekend preparing, getting new clothes and organizing the family. Monday evening I went to Best Buy to get a new camcorder. And Tuesday morning arrived, and we rushed to get ready, and then drove down to Palm Beach for the ceremony, with my mother calling every five minutes not quite understanding that we were actually busy preparing.

Beyond the security people deciding that my wife's tape measure could be some kind of weapon, we had no problems at the INS building. Some people were late, delaying the ceremony by two hours (!), and we spent the time watching some kind of PBS style documentary on the Grand Canyon, while we filled out forms for our new social security cards, passports, and so on. Then the presiding officer's microphone wouldn't work. And finally it started.

What happened exactly? Well, the front three rows were composed of those of us becoming Americans. Behind and two the sides of us were family members, friends, etc, who'd come to wish us well. What happened in what order I can't recall exactly, but we sang the (first verse of the) National Anthem, and then we were all asked to stand as our country of origin was read out. And then asked to hold our right hand up as we recited the Oath of Allegiance. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_Allegiance_%28United_States%29)

What's the oath? It's not the same as the Pledge. The Oath is a more specific statement renouncing allegiance to other countries and pledging to be loyal to the United States of America, including pledging to engage in various forms of military and civilian service if required to.

At that point, we were citizens. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance after that, watched two videos, a Ken Burns style montage of various immigrant themes, and then a message from the President. Finally, a (rather cheesy I thought, but who cares?) video of Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American/God bless the USA" which we were encouraged to sing, by immigration officers waving flags.

So that was that. Got a rather nice package of "stuff" too from a mini-American flag to a book on the important speeches and documents associated with the US, and also copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The evening was spent having dinner with my family in celebration. It was a very fun evening.


1. Welcome

I can't tell you how welcoming people are in this country. Virtually all countries have concerns about "immigrants", but the reality is that there's a massive gulf in the US between the advertised fears and how people actually act. The INS have, always, been positive to me, and generally speaking the people I've heard complain about them are the kinds of people who'd make Mother Theresa curse them out. And the INS is only a part of it, they're a fairly fair representation of how Americans see immigration in general. The INS doesn't like seeing people abuse the system, but it's clear to me that they want people who follow the rules, can contribute, and who love this country, to stay here.

One of the first things that happened, repeatedly, to me in the US is that I'd, say, strike up a conversation with a couple in a Restaurant, and they'd ask where I'm from, and I'd tell them, and they'd say "Wow, that's awesome. We're not from here either, I'm from Nebraska and Ethel here's from Missouri."

And, of course, I'd inwardly snort and think "That's not the same thing", but actually that's how most Americans see this country and people from other countries. It's one of the major things I love about America. People are treated as people, not as Americans vs British vs whatever. I'm not going to claim there's no discrimination at all, and I'm sure the poorer your English, and the poorer your bank account, the more intolerant people turn up against you. But overall people treat you as someone who's here, not someone from there.

2. Judgment

It's important to distinguish between the people of a country and the government of it. I don't think we have a particularly decent establishment right now, and that means not merely a government disconnected with the values and interests of its own people, but to a certain extent the steering of people away from viewpoints describing how things should be. If fifteen years ago, someone had said that the government was going to spy on its own people, quite openly send executioners into other countries to dispose of awkward enemies, and - again, openly - imprison hundreds of people without trial, in many cases for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I'd have dismissed it as impossible, knowing what I know of Americans and the values this country stands for.

Before certain individuals react, yes, I know that from time to time, all governments - no matter how strongly their country's people associate their country with peace, freedom, and democracy - do these kinds of things, but normally such acts are covert, or fall apart quite quickly as they clash with the values the country stands for. To use my former nation as an example, the Gibraltar SAS strike became a national scandal as soon as the details become public. Internment was tried in Northern Ireland and then quickly ended when it became obvious that such an open debasement of British values was helping the IRA, not hurting it.

So why has it happened? Because the wrong people are in power, and it's difficult to put a dissenting voice in the media. I honestly don't know any Americans, left or right wing, who are happy with what is going on. They don't see it as where the US should be, even if those who nominally support the government of the day are prone to weak apologetics or denials to hide their embarrassment.

Americans do need to take their government back. That probably involves a large amount of work that's going to take decades, working to take over their parties and ensure the grassroots uses its power that, thus far, its been unwilling or unable to exercise.

3. Our values

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It really is what America stands for. If you don't believe me, come to this country and live here a while. America is a country comprised of a people who believe that they should use their lives and liberties in the pursuit of Happiness, and that they should be a part of a system that promotes life and liberty so everyone can be free to pursue happiness.

Ask an American born here who's never visited another country if this is true, and they'd probably nod their head but not fully understand the meaning in those words. As someone who's come here from abroad, where many seem to be convinced that every duty exists except that in the support of happiness, it's really quite obvious.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post.
    Welcome to being an American.


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