The business of being naturalized involves, as does any other important business, a lot of forms. A form is filled out in ink, then folded into an envelope with a check that’s almost as much as your rent, and sent to a faraway land called Nebraska. Another form returns confirming that the first form arrived safely, along with the check-that-is-almost-as-much-as-my-rent, and that all was processed correctly. The $675 hole in your checking account affirms this.
The new form also says to turn up at a center for the support of the application, located conveniently in a strip mall a few doors down from an awesome Vietnamese market that stocks, like, every flavor of Pocky under the sun. They have mango, coconut, and blueberry cookie flavors. But back to the form. The form doesn’t care that we are carelessly shifting between first, second, and third persons in this post.
But you digress.
The application support center is the same place where you got your picture and fingerprints taken for your green card. For naturalization, you only had to give up prints, which took ages as the ridges in your fingertips were worn in places. From what?
Don’t answer that.
The tech at the center gives you a packet of information to read. It includes sample questions for the old naturalization test and the new. You decide to take the new test, to somehow compensate for the fact that you only got a 3 on the US History AP test 16 years ago and still haven’t gotten over it. Anyway, the new test has groovy flashcards that, post-naturalization test, will be re-launched as a bring-a-long to friends’ game nights along with your deck of Uno cards.
You realize after sending in your naturalization application that you answered a question wrong, so you get in touch with your friend’s friend the immigration lawyer. The cute immigration lawyer, who takes a very modest retainer and tells you the mistake is minor and easy enough to explain at your interview. You order the flashcards and send a letter to Customs asking if they can send you a record of all your US entries/exits since you got your green card at the age of four. And you still act surprised when you haven’t gotten that record by the time of your interview.
Yes, guess who got another form telling them when and where to turn up for the naturalization test? So what if it’s a Monday and you freak that your interviewer will be in a post-holiday weekend slump? And that it turns out that the first snow of the year happens on the day you go in. It’s a sign. But a good one, maybe. You make it on time to wait in a huge room filled with fellow American wannabes. Noise-level wise, somewhere between an airport gate and auditions for “American Idol”. A sort of low-level hum.
You hear your name. Is it time yet? No. Your totally cool former co-worker just happens to be there, also for an interview. You catch up — how’s so-and-so, what are you doing for Christmas, etc. He gets called before you, and you wish each other luck. You think about finishing Twilight, but fear that you might get too distracted by emo vampires in lurve so you stare at a pillar and listen to the officers call names.
And then you hear your name. A friendly looking blonde lady leads you to her office. She has you take an oath, and when you promise to tell the truth, she asks you to take a seat.
- Display green card, state ID, etc.
- Officer pulls out your file folder, where you see all your old forms. Ah, envelope to Nebraska! Nice to see you again!
- You tell her you want to take the new test, which is a surprise, as everybody wants to take the old test.
- Why are your hands shaking? Stupid. No reason to be nervous.
- Ready to take the test? Answer 6 of 10 questions correctly. Go!
- Why was the Declaration of Independence written?
- When do we celebrate Independence Day?
- How many years is a Senator elected for?
- How many Justices?
- Name a legislative branch
- I forgot the last one.
- Write this sentence: “Mexico is south of the United States.”
- Read a sentence I’ve already forgotten.
- Officer tells me I passed.
- We go through the form.
- Yes, I’m changing my name. I’m naming myself after the female Cullens in Twilight: Esme Rosalie Alice Cullen Davila. Bwahahahaha. No I’m not.
- I explain about how I thought the question about international trips taken since getting my green card was actually int’l trips taken in the last five years. Thank goodness I have my passport from that period in my life, and explain: green card gotten when dad was in US Navy, living in CA, then stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Passport shows stamps from this time. It’s totally cool, just like cute immigration lawyer said it would be.
- Have I been a Communist, had a problem with drugs, alcohol, ever been arrested, ever failed to file my taxes? Nope to these and other questions that prove my worthiness.
- I have to admit that when we get to the questions affirming my loyalty, and would I serve if my country needed me to, I was really moved. And of course said yes to all.
- She signs the form. I sign.
- She stamps forms.
- She has me print my name on name change forms.
- Do I have any questions?
- Jasmine, America’s Next Top Citizen, for the win.
- She shows me back to the waiting area, where I wait a long long long long long time to get a form, the last form, that says when and where to turn up for the Naturalization Oath Ceremony.
I take bus to the Boystown IHOP to celebrate with breakfast for lunch. Because naturally I forgot to eat breakfast today. Hang with Jeff for a bit at Caribou Coffee, then home. I look the oath on the internet. I think it’s a bit wordy, but nicely written. A bit on the prosaic side.
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Could the current US Poet Laureate punch it up a bit? I could give it a polish. Consider it my first official civic duty, my privilege, as an American.