Friday, May 23, 2014

The Final Step


From Jacqueline

May 21st, 2014

Today I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America in Oakland, CA.  I was one among 1206 immigrants from 112 countries across the globe. Peter, the man to my right was a software engineer with Google; he was originally from Russia. The lady to my left was from the Philippines.  And the two Canadians behind me really belted out The Star Spangled Banner when the time came – they could have been leading the singing. It was a ceremony that seemed to veer between moments that moved me to tears, to whole speeches of abject tedium. Sorry, but listening to instructions on how to register my change of status with Social Security while I’m still wiping away the tears that fell during the film featuring hopeful faces of immigrants coming through Ellis Island, was a bit weird.  But it was a glorious day.  In fact, it felt like a wedding day, and in some ways, I suppose it was. I didn’t get a ring, but I plighted my troth to the USA after a long engagement.

You’ve followed me along through this process, so you know a bit about what has come to pass.  Every step towards citizenship is pretty serious.  Immigration officials aren’t generally known for their comedic repartee.  Keeping a straight face and fighting the urge to quip is the order of the day (I’m a bit of a quipper).  But clearly things change when you’re “in.”  I arrived at Oakland’s Paramount Theater for the ceremony with my husband and my best American pal, Kas.  They were directed up to the balcony where friends and family were to be seated, while I joined the line of would-be citizens.  Even though I was “accepted” following my interview on April 18th, I would not be anointed – so to speak – until I'd attended the ceremony. 



At every step of the way we immigrants were greeted by smiling officials from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service who said, “Congratulations!”

 First I had to hand over my green card.  “You’re an American now,” said the woman checking me in.  “You don’t need this any more.” I felt lost letting that little card go – it had exited and entered the USA with me many times; we were travel buddies.  When I first came to America, I had terrible recurring dreams where I was in UK and had lost my green card.  I invariably woke up crying due to the lingering thought that I couldn’t get back into the US again.  I remember visiting my parents a few years ago, when my Dad was still alive – I mislaid my passport folder with the green card inside, and I had a complete meltdown.  It was my nightmare come true. I was turning over clothes, pulling things out of my suitcase, and generally getting into a state.  My Dad – who was a very laid back, methodical soul – came into my room and helped me look for it, and when we found the green card (yes, in the suitcase), he held me while I wept with relief. 

My Dad adored America – he would have been so proud of me today. He was thrilled when my brother became an American citizen about eight years ago.   I think it made Dad feel as if he were one step closer to being a cowboy – or to be more accurate, to having those wide open spaces around him.  And that’s probably where it all started, this business of becoming an American. Call it early conditioning – the fact that my father loved westerns, either in print or on the screen. He had books upon books on American history, American culture, and he could go toe-to-toe with anyone when it came to native American tribal history.



Then there was my mum and her stories of “Yanks” in wartime London.  I loved the images of confidence, of swagger, of generosity and a sense that everything was bigger in America.  Of course, that put off a lot of people (“Over paid, over-sexed and over here,” as the saying went).  I think I’ve told this story before on Naked Authors, but I will tell it again, because I love it. 

My mother turned seventeen in the summer of 1944, and on her birthday – a Saturday – she and a couple of friends were in Hyde Park, London, enjoying a sunny day.  Along came three young US Airmen, their caps tilted, their eyes on the girls.  And of course the chat-up began.  My mum’s friends told the boys that it was her birthday, so they asked her what she’d received in the way of gifts. My mum laughed – it was wartime in a city that had been relentlessly bombed for four years by that time, and along with rationing meant that she was lucky anyone remembered to say “Happy Birthday” let alone buy a gift.  The guys were shocked – and arranged to meet the girls in a couple of hours.  My mother and her friends thought they’d never see them again, but at the allotted time and place, there they were – arms filled with flowers, chocolates and nylon stockings, gifts for my 17-year-old mother.  The airmen couldn’t stay – they had to get back to camp – so they waved and went on their way. My mother said she watched them running along the path, leaping on and off park benches, arms outstretched, one of them yelling, “Look at me, I’m a B29.”   She offered her chocolates around in the air-raid shelter that night, but no one would accept (even though they really wanted one) because they were American chocolates and of course, there was the suggestion that you had to be “that sort of girl” to get a box of chocolates. So my mother – who was a bit cheeky, let it be said – sat there and ate every single chocolate in the box while giving a bite-by-bite description of each mouthful. 



 I think I can safely say that every immigrant in that theater came to America drawn by a story – perhaps that you can be anybody you want to be, in the USA, if you’re prepared to work for it.  I came here borne aloft by stories of America.  I’d entered the US many times as a visitor, but always knew in my heart that one day I would be here to stay .  I was drawn by the mythology of America – but once here I had to work hard to make my hopes become dreams that came true.  And I am not just waxing lyrical.



America is not a perfect place and never will be – thank the Lord.  But it suits me very well indeed.  I think I’ll stay.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.  And remember.






18 comments:

  1. I love the story of your Mum, at 17, and their American flyboys! Like a scene from a movie! And the movie I have in mind is "The Americanization of Emily," set of course in London in 1944!

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    1. from Jacqueline: Thanks, Paul - I think I will have to weave it into a novel one day, that's for sure. And I remember that movie too - in an interview Julie Andrews said that in one scene where she had to stand up as James Garner came into the room, her legs just about gave way - she was so nervous filming with a big star, and she added, "He was a very good looking man too ..."

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  2. Congratulations and welcome aboard this roller-coaster of citizenship!

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    1. from Jacqueline: Thanks for your comment, Fran - and it certainly has been a wild ride, I must say!

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  3. I've always viewed you as one of us in every way, but this seals the deal. You're ours forever now.

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    1. from Jacqueline: Yep, the deal is sealed. The strange thing will be entering the United Kingdom (when I go to see my mother next week) - and having to go through the visitors line!

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    1. from Jacqueline: Thank you, Jerry!

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  5. I love your mother's story of birthday chocolates . . . and so glad she rose above the narrow minds around her. Their loss . . . now, if they had said, no, it's YOUR birthday treat, savor it, that would have been sweet, but to make assumptions. Sad . . .
    Congratulations on taking such a big step. The ring image is lovely.

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    1. from Jacqueline: I loved that ring image too! And I think it was definitely everyone's loss when they would not accept American chocolates - sugar was rationed and chocolates weren't exactly an every day purchase.

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  6. James O. Born5/23/2014 4:12 PM

    Congratulations. We're very proud to have you aboard this big, wonderful, unpredictable ship called the United States. Now you can drop the fake accent.

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  7. from Jacqueline: How the heck did you know about the accent? I thought I'd fooled everyone!

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  8. Congratulations!

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  9. Congratulations and welcome! I hope you enjoyed our singing after the ceremony - I'm a member of TOSCA, the group that sang "America" and "This Land is Your Land"!

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    1. from Jacqueline: Oh wow! That was really fantastic!! My husband is a Woody Guthrie fan, so I was thrilled when you sang that one, and "America" was just beautiful. Thank you!

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  10. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your journey with us!

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    1. from Jacqueline: Thank you for your message, Mary.

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  11. Congratulations on your achievement on sticking with it given our strange world these days. I, myself, am a naturalized citizen, This happened when I was 8 years old, and I remember being very serious because this was a big thing that I was doing. Thank you for a wonderful story.

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