Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My (almost) fellow Americans

Jeez, it doesn't take much to become a US citizen, does it? I mean, apart from the eight-some years of filling out forms, getting fingerprinted, collecting documents, filling out more forms to replace the ones that were lost, spending interminable hours with the huddled-masses-yearning-to-breathe-free in soulless waiting rooms, writing checks for lawyers bills and filing fees.

But when it comes to the pivotal moment--when it gets to the interview that can affect the rest of your life--it goes like this:

You wait about 45 minutes for an interviewer to call your name. Finally one does, and he directs you and your lawyer to a small office. Desk, computer, printer, paperwork, pictures of the kids, a hand-painted "Best daddy in the world" coffee mug. A small cheap radio playing a local news station.

Your lawyer is instructed to sit behind you; you're told to stand and raise your right hand.

"Do you swear to tell the truth?"

Not swear on God or your momma's life or anything specific. Just swear, vaguely. You say yes, vaguely.

"Do you mind the radio?"

You say it's not bothering you.

You're told to sit.

Ten minutes pass while the interviewer tries to find your record on the system. Then, the questions. The ones you've studied for weeks. The ones you had people test you on. The ones that may possibly include things you hadn't thought of.

Who was the first President?
Who is the President today?
What is July 4?

Can you name one Senator from your state?
How many Senators are there?
What is the Constitution?

That's it? That's it?? Come on, even Americans could get those right! The only tough one would be the last, and that's only because they're looking for the official rote answer: "The supreme law of the land." In a moment of daring, you actually include the air quotes when you answer that one.

Then he whizzes through the others. "Have you ever been a Communist ... Nazi ... terrorist ... member of a hate group? Ever been arrested ... charged ... jailed?" You assume they don't see you as posing a threat to national security, but you'd have appreciated the effort.

And then he asks for a writing sample. He slides your test paper over and says, "Write on the bottom, I love America."

You refrain from laughing out loud and do as you're told, slightly curious as to what would happen if you asked for an alternative statement.

And then you sign your name on five documents, and on two copies of your official photo, and he stamps a big red "APPROVED" stamp in your file.

And you're done.

But you're not American yet.

Back out to the waiting room for another half-hour, to get the paperwork that tells you where and when your swearing-in ceremony will be. Your lawyer says it could be between four and eight weeks.

It's in two weeks. In Lowell.

On December 12, you become an American.

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