Ask my five-year-old, Missy M, how one participates in their democracy, and she’ll come up with, “Join a political party.” She’s smart like that. You might see her on Ellen soon.
It’s more likely that she just has good listening skills. She’s been listening to an American Civics CD in the car for a month now, thanks to her parents’ intense preparation for their American Citizenship test.
When you meet Missy M’s mom, you see a small Indian lady. When you hear her speak, your observations are confirmed.
But last week I was sworn in as an American citizen. I proved it by wolfing down a Peanut Butter Jelly sandwich, before raising my hand in an oath and flawlessly saying the Pledge of Allegiance (Thanks to my kids repeatedly reciting the Pledge in their preschooler days!).
The morning of our test began with driving to downtown Portland at 6 am. Well, it really began with me agonizing over my wardrobe trying to find an outfit that wouldn’t scream “Stay At Home Mom.” We listened to the CD for the 683rd time and arrived at our destination even before they’d opened for the day. Clearly, we were nervous immigrants and not tourists out for a bite at Denny’s.
It looks like just another gray building downtown. Till you step inside. Then you’re asked if you’re carrying any weapons, tasers or pepper spray. Ummm, no. I simply bring with me a giant folder of documents and some butterflies in the pit of my stomach.
We were then sent to the waiting room. It’s there that a single thought seized me: that coffee this morning wasn’t such a swell idea. You really DO NOT want to miss a shot of a lifetime because nature was beckoning with unparalleled urgency. Sorry, TMI, I know. Thankfully, we had enough time to take care of, ahem, business before our interviews.
In a little while, I was ushered into an office by a man who introduced himself to me as “Officer G.” (Let’s call him that. My immigrant hangover makes me wary about revealing his name). He seemed nice enough. I was about to relax and sit down at his table when he says, “Before you sit…”
Butterflies come back.
“Please raise you right hand and declare that you swear that everything you say today is the truth.”
I feel like I’m on a Perry Mason show. (Yeah, stuck in a crime show time warp. Maybe CSI Miami is a more current choice?)
I sit down and answer questions about myself. I keep my answers to a faint yes/ no, but of course my thoughts run amok.
Officer G asks, “So, your maiden name is George?”
“Yes” (*I know, “Susan George” fits me as perfectly as McDonald’s serving organic, farm-to-table meals. But that’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth).
“And, you’re 4’10” tall?”
“Yes” (*Didn’t I just walk in with you? Can’t you tell? You don’t need to rub it in, OFFICER”)
“Have you ever participated in any terrorist related activities?”
“No.” (*Does anyone ever answer, “Why, in fact, I have. Just once, when I was young and restless.”)
“If necessary, will you participate in military combat?”
“Yes” (*Have you taken a good look at me? NO ONE WANTS A 4-FOOT-NOTHING, 36-YEAR-OLD MAMA IN COMBAT.)
“If necessary, will you perform other important non-combative services for the government?”
“Yes” (*I can cook a mean chicken tikka masala. I also have extensive experience settling disputes between parties under age 7. Important enough?)
He then proceeds to test me on my civics and history knowledge. I barely give him a chance to ask the questions before I blurt out the answers.
All those years of cramming for exams in India were paying off. He stops after six questions. (*Cuhmonnow Officer G, this mama is feeling smart. For once, I’m not calculating how many loads of laundry to run or planning the week’s menu.)
I pass the test.
We were asked to come back that afternoon to be sworn in.
Thirty seven immigrants stood up with tiny American flags. We collected our Naturalization certificates and then sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was possibly the worst rendition of the anthem, considering English was a second language for the majority of the group. And, the “land of the free” part? That can really test one’s vocal chords – in any language.
But I’m sure it was also one of the most heartfelt renditions of the anthem. You could reach out and touch the emotions in that room.
Then President Obama looked us in the eye (alright, from a screen, if we have to get technical) and told us, “You’re one of us now.”
The huberroo and I had waited a long time for this.
I’m sure there were others in the room who had waited longer.
America is unique. It is a land almost entirely made up of immigrants.
I was humbled to be part of that moment.
It felt historic.
And now, before my mommy brain kicks back in, ask me who wrote the Federalist Papers or any of the 99 other questions on that CD.