Everyone should be required to attend a citizenship ceremony. I had that honor several years ago. A person I was dating at the time, after years of a process that seemed simultaneously endless and frustrating, finally had a date to have her naturalization confirmed.
We awoke early one Saturday morning. She dressed as though she were going to church and I dreaded what I thought would be a half-day affair of lines and more paperwork. Her mother, who became a citizen years earlier, was running late — as usual — and had no idea where the place in Durham was, but was on the phone trying to get directions.
Once there, the process was relatively simple since most information had already been provided confirming the eligibility. They represented a cross section of the world, from countries of the former Soviet Union to those from war-torn parts of Africa, and those countries where women were treated as chattel.
There was a low murmur in the room, almost an anti-climactic ending to a long arduous process. A relatively young government official, with standard-issue white shortsleeved shirt and tie took his place in front of a podium, ready to provide remarks and issue the oath of allegiance.
I heard a knock on the window behind me and saw my then-girlfriend’s mom behind the glass window trying to convince someone to let her in. She wore a dress likely viewed by others as a bit outdated, reflective of a Honduran woman who grew up in a different country and a different time. Her journey to the ceremony mirrored her own journey to citizenship. At times she was lost, but she persevered because of her dogged determination to become a citizen of the United States of America.
I still have no idea how the mother found the place, or how I was able to persuade a security guard to let her in to see her daughter take the oath. I couldn’t help but laugh, and the mom shared a laugh and a grateful embrace. We finally stood off to the side to watch her daughter repeat the oath and become a citizen. Like several other loved ones who were there to support a soon-to-become citizen, I took a position at the end of a row to take a picture.
Prior to the formality of administering the oath, the young civil servant made a few announcements while waiting for some final bureaucratic shuffling. While trying to fill a little time, he asked if anyone wanted to share their story of what led them to seek citizenship in the United States. After an awkward silence an older gentleman from a country in Africa slowly stood, looked around at the approximately 50 or so persons, and with tears in his eyes and a heavy accent explained how America offered him hope from the incessant wars and oppressive poverty in his own country.
His words were directed to the observers. “You cannot understand what this ceremony means to me. I hope you realize how fortunate you are.”
A lady from a country in South America told of how she was denied basic rights. “You are so lucky here.” Many others became emotional in telling their story.
I remember literally getting chill bumps as I realized that what I was about to witness was sacred. My skill as a writer is woefully inadequate to capture the aura that enveloped the room, this mundane waiting room with orange plastic-backed chairs and white tile floor, as future citizens repeated the following words: “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 and faithful allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
Observations from the unwashed but well read … and still humbled by the experience.
Mr. Morris lives in Erwin. Contact him at email@example.com.
UNWASHED BUT WELL READ