Saturday, September 30, 2006

The big day

So yes, today was my big day. The day on which I became a US Citizen.

The process was much like air travel; hurry up and go slow. And that's just talking about todays proceedings at the US District Courthouse down on Washington Street, Central Phoenix. The route from foreigner to the courthouse is much slower. And I had it easy; about as easy as it's possible for anyone not an active member of the military.

The public ceremony was scheduled for 1:30 PM but we candidates were instructed to arrive no later than 11:45 AM. Arrived, we went through the usual security gauntlet though it's rather less restrictive than that required to board an aircraft.

Then some milling about waiting; Sonya and I played the 'pick the candidate' game. We guessed it was about one quarter to one third candidates and the remainder friends and relatives.

A few minutes late and they opened the doors for candidates only. Now we come to a curious oversight with a process that's usually highly efficient. You have to understand that we're inside a large modern court building architected on the 'awe the hell out of em' principle. Ie, the building is about ten times larger than it needs to be and nine tenths of the space is taken up with a huge hall with terrible acoustics. The poor bugger trying to instruct us has no electronic augmentation and I'd reckon most of us couldn't hear what she was trying to announce! Certainly I was having problems, and remember I'm the guy who can tell, at dinner, that Andrew's left his TV on when he shouldn't have!

So in we marched, candidates only, taking seats at the back of the courtroom. Then followed a long process of checking each of us in. Hand over our appointment letter, answer the litany of questions. I touched briefly on what questions here[^] but they surely did quiz every one of us. From there to another line where we handed over the letter and our green card (farewell old friend!) and thence to a third line where we were shown our naturalisation certificate, to verify that all the details were correct. Only then were we allowed to take our seats in the front of the courtroom, in the same order that our certificates were stacked.

That last part was amazing. Understand that we were processed in random order and yet there was no fumbling through a pile of certificates when it came time to examine them. They just had the right certificate waiting. I still can't imagine how they were able to pull that trick off!

Given that there were 99 of us (one candidate was a no show) you can imagine this all took some time. Fortunately we were provided with reading material to fill in the time; a rubber stamped welcome letter from President George W Bush, a map of the route from the court house to the US passport office over on West Jackson Street, an Arizona voter registration form and the words to The Star Spangled Banner.

Check in finished with about 20 minutes to spare and we were allowed a break after being enjoined to be certain we returned to the same seat; they really wanted us in the same order as our naturalisation certificates. Why will become clear later!

Of course I took the opportunity for a smoke! Two if the truth be told!

Back in the courtroom we were shown a patriotic video replete with images from Ellis Island fading in and out against a background of the flag flying proudly in the breeze and finishing on a long shot of Liberty in New York Harbour. Then an awkward gap. According to the programme (yes, they distribute a programme) the judge was supposed to start proceedings but she was a trifle late. *shrug*

The usual palaver when she did arrive. Respect for the court and all that. Then the USCIS (INS) officer made a motion that we candidates for citizenship be accepted. Which motion was graciously accepted by the court. Uh huh. As though, having got this far, the court is going to say no?? Yeah, I know it's ceremony but it did feel a trifle silly.

Then we're on our feet taking the Oath of Allegiance. Quite the emotional experience. Can't speak for anyone else but what starts out as an almost whispered response builds in volume as confidence increases.

Oath taken and suddenly we're citizens! We were told to sit and almost immediately we're on our feet again, to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance. This blindsided me. The Oath of Allegiance, as the form of words which confers citizenship, is read out, piece by piece and we repeat it piece by piece. The Pledge wasn't read out; we were assumed to have learned it. Uh huh, I haven't memorised it yet.

Then came some welcoming comments and applause, followed by another video, this one featuring the President welcoming us. I have to admit, not being a fan of the current incumbent of the office, that I thought the speech was well done. Lots of inclusive commentary and many reiterations that we are now, officially, Americans.

Three or four of our number gave short speeches. We all had the opportunity to volunteer but I'm not much of a one for public speaking so I gave it a miss. Besides, how could my story compare with that of the young lady from Kosovo who had passed through a refugee camp before being rescued by Lutheran volunteers? How compare with the Sudani escaping that conflict? Or the Tongan guy who'd been here 30 years and was finally, on his fourth try, successful at gaining citizenship?

Then it was time for the judge to give her speech. She started out by asking what countries were represented. In some ways it was like pulling teeth; most people seemed reluctant to volunteer any information. I was about the third to stand and announce my country of origin. She, the judge, seemed nonplussed when I said Australia and I (and Sonya) had the distinct impression that she really didn't know where Australia was!

And what countries were represented? Australia of course! Great Britain, Italy, Somalia, Sudan, Korea, The Philippines, Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Peru, Kosovo, Bosnia, Norway and Congo.

Our judge, being from immigrant parents, was justly proud of how far she'd come and boy did she give a speech about it. Sonya, afterwards, said she wasn't sure of the relevance of the speech but I thought it was just right.

And now you're going to discover why it was important that we be seated in the correct order, for the conclusion was the judge coming down to the floor and handing us each our naturalisation certificate and shaking us by the hand. Actually the Sudanese guy wasn't content with a handshake; he wanted a full on hug. Good luck to him! And who knows, I may be the only Australian our judge has ever met. *shrug*

Naturalisation certificate safely in my possession we retired outside for a smoke. My friend Vern[^] had taken the trouble to attend the ceremony, something I greatly appreciated. We disappeared across the road for a coffee and some shyacking. I fear I'll never manage the American accent (which accent would that be anyway? California? Mississippi? New Jersey?) but Vern was forced to admit that I can say 'screw you!' with the best of them. He acknowledges that I also have a smooth technique with the middle finger 'bird'.

So now I'm a yank! Yeeehaaawwwwwwwww! :-)

No comments: