Feb 4, 2016

I AM ONE OF YOU NOW!




After receiving some pretty tragic news last night about a family member and feeling devastated about it, I had to rally and get ready today for my Oath Ceremony.

We left the house pretty early, because parking is impossible on swear in days. On the way there we had to U-turn and take another route because there was a three-car and a school bus accident (no one was badly injured).

We made it there with plenty of time and I sat with my family (aunts, uncle, my mom, dad and husband) waiting to be called to the ceremony room.

It’s funny because all this time I have felt this fear and apprehension towards the USCIS agents and today they were all ebullient and smiley. They took our resident cards, never to be seen again and handed us all a packet with a holder for the naturalization certificate, a passport application, a booklet about voter registration, an envelope with a letter from President Obama, a small book with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a Citizen’s Almanac and a page with the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and the Oath of Allegiance, and a little US flag.

People were actually late, I cannot even fathom it. I have waited so long for this moment that I can’t understand why everyone wasn’t there early or on time. We had to wait until everyone showed up and it started 45 minutes after schedule.

There were 86 of us being sworn in, 32 nationalities, or former nationalities I should say now.

We sang the anthem and saw a video and then the ceremony started. The USCIS Agent spoke fondly of how moments like these ones were what made her job the best job. I could tell she was so excited and happy for us, I don’t think you can fake her enthusiasm and I knew then she is chosen to give the speech at the ceremonies because she feels and believes what she is saying and we new citizens feel moved and appreciated by it.

They called every former nationality (made sure to impress that upon us) and when Colombia was named, eight of us stood up.

I hope people understand that as much as we all want to be citizens, we do not do so lightly. At least I did not do it lightly. I stood there renouncing my born country and I did it honestly, with all my heart because this is my home country now, but it is with a little pain that you let go of that.

After all former nationalities were called, we raised our right hand and pledged our loyalty to the United States of America. To give up loyalty any other country or sovereignty that we were citizens or subjects to, to defend and protect her from all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help us God.

The lady in front of me was sobbing so hard, I had doubt she actually said the oath out loud.
I had my moments, when tears clouded my eyes, and a knot in my throat made it hard to swallow but they were happy tears (especially when the President spoke to us, welcoming us as US Citizens, what can I say? I love me some Obama)

We waved our flag and smiled and then received our certificates, so crisp and pretty, with our picture in them.We left our numbered chairs to be hugged and kissed by our families and loved ones, by those who stood by us and held our hands and dried our tears and helped us throughout this journey. Dear Husband was in tears, so was my mom and aunts and uncles. I laughed and smiled and kissed them and hugged and just felt overwhelmed by love from them. There they were crying for me and I was so excited and hopeful and in disbelief that I was unable to shed one single tear.

We took a picture in front of the Department of Homeland Security Flag and the US Flag and it felt all sorts of surreal.

I know some people have very heated feelings about immigrants and why we are here and what we do, I know sometimes they don’t know us, our stories, and our reasons. I know sometimes they hate us, sometimes they fear us and I wish they could see inside my heart and my head and know that I am like so many others out there and they are trying to get to where I am. I love this country, I love its people, this is my home now, I will protect it and defend it and do my best to make it even better because it’s officially mine now too. Don’t worry, I won’t let it down.

Feb 2, 2016

CITIZENSHIP TEST, ROUND 2



On April 26, 2016 I will be in this country for 14 years. Only 3 years less than the time I lived in Venezuela, 11 years more than I ever lived in my birth country of Colombia. 

Today I went at 8 am to take my citizenship test. I don’t need to share with you, my gentle readers, how many times I went to the bathroom. I debated whether I should take one of my Xanax, which are always in my bathroom cabinet, ready to be taken when I fly but since I am planning international travel this year, I decided to brave the nerves and the fear without pharmaceutical aid.

They called me into the interview room five minutes past my appointment time, I was so thankful the emotional torture would soon be over, I rather be facing the agent and getting on with the test that sit there with my stomach in knots pretending nonchalance.

I swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth and sat down. They asked me to signed and initial two passport photos that I had sent with my application. You mean to tell me I have to grab a pen and perform a motor skill related task while my hands are shaking this badly?

That’s the thing, my heart is not pounding, my voice is not shaking but my hands are always a dead giveaway. When I had to give a maid of honor speech last year, I joked, I laughed, I was sarcastic, the only reason people knew I was about to piss my dress it’s because my cheat sheet was shaking so much it was almost vibrating.

I went through the application, promising that I had never been a prostitute, broken the law, arrested or involved with the communist party. The agent asked me about the deportation order and how it had been lifted, she asked me what had caused it. I was afraid of this question, I was afraid they were going to say, you know what? We are not so sure the immigration judge should have lifted that order, here’s the ankle bracelet again! But I explained it was from a prior case, she nodded and then moved on.

I was asked to say “Who can vote” and write “Citizens can vote” my handwriting looked like a preschooler’s with the shaking and all, but I did it!  She then proceeded to ask me about the vice president, the reasons why we fought the British, the number of amendments in the Constitution, and what the highest court in the U.S. is.  That was it...I was all ready to recite all 13 Colonies, describe the “Rules of Law”, tell all 22 names of the Native American tribes and list all Cabinet level positions… but no, that was all.

She checked the little box that said “you past the test” and told me to be there this Thursday to have my Oath Ceremony.

You guys…I am going to a U.S. Citizen on Thursday. You, who have been with me throughout this whole process can understand how monumental and life changing this moment is.

I feel…I don’t even know what to feel! My phone has been ringing nonstop since this morning with family and friends congratulating me for what they know it’s the biggest moment of my life since my marriage. 

I think about every moment that had led to this and I want to hug that frustrated me who never thought this day would come. And what a year for this day to come!
I can’t wait to register to vote and exercise a right I have never been able to because I have always been an immigrant in the country I lived in.

I wish I could explain the feeling in my chest, the constant need to cry a little, the way I wish it was Thursday already so I can stand there and vow to be loyal to this country that has given me and my family so much.

I can’t wait to stand there and wave the flag and lift my hand along my fellow new citizens and enjoy the privilege of being an American. I am soooo going to Europe with my blue passport!

Dec 15, 2015

CITIZENSHIP



Guys, tomorrow I have my citizenship test appointment. Those of you who have been with me through this entire process know how monumental this is for me.

I am a flipping mess. My stomach it’s hurting so bad from the nerves (or maybe from the entire box of Special K, I nervous ate last night). I wish I had the confidence to go without nerves but historically speaking my appointments have been fraught with one thing or another and I hate to invite trouble but I can’t get the words of my retired lawyer out of my head: ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best’

Repeated those to me like a mantra throughout this entire process and now I cannot just be cavalier about it, I am a nervous wreck and preparing for anything and everything.

My friend Erin suggested taking one of my ‘fly pills’ (Xanax) but I rather be coherent and nervous than so chill and relaxed that I am not giving a damn about my answers.

To those of you who do not know the process this is how it goes:
 
After three years of having a permanent residency (and technically five years after being married to an American Citizen) applicants get to submit the N-400 (naturalization) form.  Applicant of course has to pay a fee along with the application and have another round of fingerprinting (I did that in August) and then if fingerprints come clean, a letter it’s send with a date and time to present at the local immigration office for testing.
 
The testing involves reviewing the N-400 application, where they ask the applicant to repeat the entire form, name, places of residence for the past five years, places of employment for the past five years, if they have left the country, for how long they’ve been out, etc. They also ask if they’ve ever prosecuted someone based on their religious faith, if they’ve belonged to a militia, or guerrilla-type organizations or ever belonged to a Communist party or a Nazi party. I think they also ask if they have ever prostituted.  Fun times!
 
They then ask 10 out of 100 possible civic questions that range from: “What is the supreme law of the land?” to “what states border Canada?” Applicants have to get 6 out of 10 right. Then they ask to say a sentence in English, which is kind of redundant to me because the entire time they have reviewed the application it’s in English so they should have a clue of whether the applicant is fluent or not by that point, but what do I know?  After repeating something along the lines of “the White House it’s located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” the applicant has to also write the sentence or a similar one (think “the fox jumps over the lazy dog”) 

I have read and being told by my family members who have gone through the process, that they may or may not tell you right away if you passed, and they may or may not get you sworn in the same day, and may or may not give you a date right away for your swear in. They also may or may not send a letter requesting further paperwork and information.
So they may or may not grant it.
 

Absolute and definite it’s not their game.

My case has been a complicated one and it took years but the outcome was a positive one. I repeat that to myself constantly. I have my permanent residency and my legal status was resolved and everything is fine, but I am not going to lie, the whole process was somehow dehumanizing and traumatic. Every time I see an immigration application I get this uncomfortable and painful feeling in my stomach and I turn into a raging bitch. I am so short tempered and annoyed when I can’t find a paper or get frustrated when they ask me to bring a copy of my husband’s birth certificate to prove he is a U.S. Citizen and it irks me! It irks me that they require that paper when they have at least four copies of that from the entire process. It is part of the bureaucracy of every country, not just this one.

I understand it when I stop and think about it, but I think is part of the emotional trauma that I associate with the immigration process.

I am afraid of them. I guess that’s what it boils down to. I am afraid of the unchecked power they have over me and my future. I know this is the end of the process and still it’s a visceral reaction to what the immigration agents represent. I felt so disenfranchised and alone when this whole process began. Apparently having a permanent resident card hasn’t relieved me of that fear.

I wonder if everything goes well and I pass the test and they grant me citizenship if that fear will remain in me. Or if I will feel the blue passport like a mantle over my shoulders protecting me from them and all dangers out there.

I have always loved those scenes in the movies where the American Citizen is running towards their embassy, secure in the knowledge that they will have the whole backing and protection of the world’s most powerful country as soon as they cross those gates. I felt jealous of that, of that confidence in one’s country.

While confidence and trust in government it’s an all-time low, pretty much everywhere in the world, I must admit that I don’t feel that way towards this country. Maybe because where I come from it’s so much worse, so much corruption without any accountability. I am sure Americans who read this will disagree and think me naive and misinformed. I am also sure they haven’t lived in Colombia or Venezuela and have no clue of the realities there.

In spite of that, I do not make the decision of citizenship lightly. I will have to forgo loyalty to my native country after all.

I am prepared though. I used to mock my brother for how ‘native’ he had gone and here I am, gone native as well. I don’t quite bleed red, white and blue, but I have worked hard to stay here, I have worked hard to never be a burden to the country, I have done my part to keep it clean and safe, I have traveled and loved every inch of this country that I have seen. I am in awe of its beauty every day; and every afternoon when I drive home and see the sun set and the pink, oranges and blues of the Florida skyline I smile and I grateful that I get to be here and enjoy that beauty.
 
I am ever so grateful of the opportunity to be here and the acceptance that I have found in those who have welcomed me.  I love this new country of mine. I do.  I think back to the days when I was depressed and miserable and wanting to go back to Venezuela and I smile a little at thinking of all the things I would’ve missed from here.  It’s a different type of love from my love from Venezuela or Colombia, not so tinged with nostalgia and sadness. It’s hopeful, sweet and thankful.

Let’s see tomorrow if the agents will let their country love me back.