Sunday, January 24, 2010
On Friday, January 22, at approximately 2:10 p.m., my husband became a U.S. citizen. It was the culmination of years of visa applications, fee-paying and test-taking, and it was, honestly, a relief – I felt my whole body relax when the letter with the oathtaking ceremony information arrived weeks after we’d thought it would. Immigration policies and procedures have changed at a rapid-fire pace since 9/11, and it didn’t seem all that far-fetched to think that I might wake up one morning to find my husband had turned into an illegal alien overnight.
The ceremony was meaningful but not overly long, and was held on the 28th floor of the Eagleton federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis. There was a short speech by a lady who works at the International Institute; she talked about New Year’s Day and a new start, Dr. Martin Luther King and civic responsibilities, and later stood for photos with several of the candidates. The judge (a bankruptcy judge, as it happens), also said a few words about the responsibilities of a citizen. Then came the motion to naturalize the applicants, during which each of them (there were 46) were asked to stand and state their name, country of birth and occupation, as well as say a few words if they liked.
And then, we endured possibly the worst rendition of the national anthem in the history of time. The woman’s wobbly voice made me feel for her, right up to the point where she forgot the words. Luckily, the judge was on the ball and prompted her with “bombs bursting in air” after which it was just a matter of restraining the urge to nudge my mom lest I dissolve into a fit of giggles.
The final step was for each person to approach the judge to receive their certificate of naturalization as their name was called. Everyone took a photo with the judge, some just the two of them, some surrounded by family members. Three of Mowgli's friends from work had come to the ceremony, so we got a group shot with them, my mom and me (and the judge, of course).
As we exited the courthouse, my work team (my office is literally across the street) greeted us with flags and cheers – something I’d known about and managed to keep from Mowgli despite his habit of looking at incoming text messages. Later, we celebrated with friends and family at a bar that was grievously underprepared to receive a party of just over 90. Someone told me they’d seen one of the two bartenders cowering in a corner, crying and saying, “I can’t do this.” To be fair, I had called to warn them that we could be that many, but the woman I spoke with had laughed down the phone and said it was fine.
Thinking back on the day, the most moving part (other than watching my husband accept his certificate) was a very short statement from an older Pakistani gentleman. After he said his name and that he was retired, he spoke about how much he loves this country and how wonderful the people are, and that he knew he had to stay here for the rest of his life. His words moved me to tears, and as much as I hate to admit it, reminded me that I am very lucky to have been born in this country.