Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting Naturalized: Nothing Like the Movies

What did I expect at my naturalization ceremony a couple weeks ago? Some sort of solemn ritual recognizing the significance of turning in our green cards for Old Glory. After all, patriotism is a big part of the American psyche.
Like many of the 99 others from 38 countries becoming U.S. citizens that day, I invited my husband and pulled my son out of school to attend. We dressed up in our Sunday best and drove to the Homeland Security building.
It could be that I've seen too many news stories about those Fourth of July naturalization ceremonies where tears stream down the faces of new citizens as a choir sings and the flag flaps in the wind. Or too many sappy movies a la Green Card.
By contrast, my ceremony was more like getting my driver's license renewed.
We spent the first hour being "processed" -- waiting in line to turn in our green cards and verify our identities. More waiting for the ceremony to begin as we squeezed into a crowded auditorium clutching our little American flags.
Next to me was a man from Korea. He's lived in the U.S. for 17 years, raised a family here.
"I was sad when I woke up this morning," he told me. He didn't have to tell me that his heart will always be Korean even as he becomes an American.
I looked down my row at other citizens-to-be, from young to very old. I wondered about what twists of fate had brought them here? What had they left behind to chase the American dream? I wanted to interview each and every one of them and hear their stories.
When the ceremony began, we were welcomed by an uninspiring mid-level bureaucrat who read from a script. Another official warned us for at least the third time to turn in our green cards -- or else. (Was it even possible to get through processing without doing that?)
We watched a couple of videos and a recorded message from President Obama -- the highlight of the event. Stood for the Oath of Allegiance. Marched across the stage to get our naturalization certificate. And it was over.
What did I expect? More dignity, less bureaucracy. Someone speaking from the heart about the journeys that led to this place. Or at least a reception with apple pie.
(Photo: by Blink)


  1. Hi Ruth... I have had to play like a detective to track you down... I have been wondering where you went after the PI going on line. A reporter at PI helped me. I know that there is a better way but I am not too computer saavy so I hope you get this. I have contacted you because I think I have a great idea for a human interest/community story. I am not sure if you still are doing this type of stuff or maybe you could first: tell me if it's worthy...and second: point me in the direction of someone who could get it out there... email for me: Thanks!!