I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling about the same way I do on most other weekday mornings.
I mean, I don’t usually have hot dogs, macaroni salad and apple pie a la mode for dinner most weeknights, but apart from that everything felt relatively normal.
It wasn’t until I staggered into the living room to try and jumpstart my brain to get ready for work that I got the visual reminder that something was indeed different: a couple of small plastic American flags sticking out of the top of the couch.
Oh yeah. I’m a U.S. citizen now!
As I think I mentioned a few weeks ago, it was hard to really know what to expect going into the ceremony. The perfunctory and self-serious letter from USCIS didn’t really reveal much about proceedings, other than that we could have family and friends join us, and that jeans were verboten. “Dress for the dignity of the occasion,” I believe the letter read.
The ceremony was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., with new citizens-to-be required to get there a half-hour early to register, submit final paperwork and turn over our green cards. Mine had been lingering in the back of my wallet since January of 2014, usually only emerging after four beers with an air of incredulity when someone tells me they’ve never seen a green card before. Real smart move for a piece of plastic that would’ve cost $450 to replace.
As is the Crawford Way, I showed up at Brown International Elementary School a good 20 minutes before I had to be there, and sat in the second row of the school auditorium nervously looking around. As the room filled up, the USCIS field agent who was running the show asked family members to move out of the first three rows, which cleared a considerable proportion of the seats, and had us would-be Americans turn in our paperwork.
While I was waiting in line, Alex and my friends Courtney, Pat, Mike and Danika all arrived, as well as my former coworker Susan who brought her super-fancy camera to record the moment for my family back home. That’s something I actually hadn’t considered until Susan had mentioned it to me in the weeks leading up to the ceremony.
Once we all were registered, we were ushered to our seats by fourth-graders from Brown Elementary, who’ve spent the semester learning about citizenship and the naturalization process. They were also in charge of distributing the aforementioned flags to everyone who attended.
In keeping with the theme of this whole process, it was a case of “hurry up and wait.” I had plenty of nervous energy to spare, but I kept my phone in my back pocket so as not to be distracted and miss anything. Instead, I flicked through the packet of goodies they’d left on each of our seats: a pocket copy of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Citizens’ Almanac, and assorted paperwork for applying for a passport and registering to vote.
Proceedings eventually got underway, with opening remarks from your average generic government employee. The fourth grade class was lined up on the steps to the stage at the front of the room, and they led everyone in a rendition of the national anthem before we got into the speeches.
A teacher got up first and explained the nature of the school and what makes it “international,” followed by a fourth-grade student from Iran who was herself a new citizen. That story was touching enough before she finished with a line that I’ll paraphrase here:
“If you’re ever feeling far away from your country of birth, remember: you’re never alone.”
And I admit, that one hit me right in the chest and got me all choked up. Not necessarily because I ever feel alone, but because the sentiment was coming from a 10-year-old whose immigration process was undoubtedly a more difficult journey than mine.
Her classmate, who spoke next, detailed the basic administrative process we all went through to have arrived at that point, and then we heard from representatives of Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner. These were pretty boilerplate remarks read off a letterhead, but the Republican rep avoided using “Make America Great Again,” so he avoided most of my derision.
Up next was the “call of countries,” where the immigration official read out the 20 birth nations of all 30 participants (and had us stand up in acknowledgement for it.) It was a little embarrassing to be clapped and cheered for, but it wasn’t the last time that afternoon, so I’d have to just get used to it. There were a couple folks from Canada and South Africa, and people who immigrated from Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Morocco and Colombia, with Mexican nationals making up the largest country contingent.
Once we were through the roll call, it was time to raise our right hands for the Oath of Allegiance. I had kinda expected it to be displayed on the projector screen so we could all read along, but instead we repeated after the immigration official a few words at a time. It goes as follows:
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 faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Pretty serious, right? The immigration official then went on to assure us that we could continue to partake in the customs (!) and foods (!!) of our home nations, which is…wow very generous of you guys?
After we got the oath out, the fourth-grade speakers came back to the stage and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, then we wandered across the stage one by one, received our certificates and shook hands with the bigwigs.
And that was pretty much it! We hung out for a few minutes for some photos before making our way back home, where hot dogs, potato salad, apple pie and Miller Lite were all on the menu. A few people at work today asked me whether I went out to celebrate afterwards, but I had already figured the occasion would’ve been just emotionally exhausting enough that I’d want to be couch-bound at the end of the day, and I turned out to be correct.
There will of course be further celebration though; Alex wants to throw A Great Big American Party once the weather is a little more conducive to being outdoors, which gives me a little more time to get accustomed to being the center of attention and being congratulated for something that I’ve always kinda felt to be a foregone conclusion.
And while that, in a way, feels just a tiny bit anticlimactic, the ultimate endgame was to formalize something that I’ve known for five-plus years: that this is my new permanent home, and if that’s the case then I should be all-in.
I mean, any excuse to have hot dogs for dinner right?