I was quite surprised today when, after taking my citizenship test, I was told to come back in a couple of hours and take the oath. Of course I knew taking the oath was part of the process. I just didn’t realize it was going to be so quick.
And this may sound dumb, but the swearing in ceremony is quite an international extravaganza. 88 people from 29 countries and all of their supporting crowd.
I’m greeted as I enter the room by the tallest woman I’ve ever seen who happens to have the thickest German accent I’ve ever heard.
I’m escorted to my seat by a Japanese lady who happens to be a dwarf.
Behind me there are at least seven young black toddlers – the cutest I’ve ever seen – who seem confused and tickled by everything going on around them.
People have dressed up and their family and friends accompany them with cameras and flags in hand. Apparently this is a formal affair and no one has told me. I’m there alone, wearing shorts; my shoulder blistered and throbbing from the laser tattoo removal session I had yesterday. I can stop playing with the blisters, urging them to pop.
It would be easy to make fun of the proceedings – a room reminiscent of Microsoft conference rooms, A/V confusion that starts the Star Spangled banner playing a second time just when we were hoping for the recorded message from Barack Obama, photomontages and a full on music video for a song whose chorus is something like “thank God I’m American.”
By contrast, I find myself tearing up when they acknowledge the lone enlisted guy who is amongst us. The guy who isn’t even an American citizen A lump forms in my throat when people start standing up when their country is called – Iran, Pakistan, Mauritania, Bolivia, CANADA.
And then, when I hear the officials mention that starting today the people in the room can petition to have their fathers, mothers, siblings and children come to the US. I may already have British and Canadian citizenship by default but for some, this is life and death. This is the difference between a hard life and a good one. This is a big deal.