American to be

As July 4th and my American Naturalization approach, it dominates more and more conversations that I have, whether it be with strangers or close friends etc.

tl;dr — I am becoming a citizen of the US so that I can have a say in the way the world works — especially America.

I’m a product of the American system. I’ve lived here since I was 3. I know this country’s history and the way its government works better than anywhere else (including Canada (my original nationality) and the Netherlands (where I was born — people’s initial question upon finding out I’m a foreigner)).

I’ve known this is something I wanted to do since I was 16. It just kind of made sense, I knew more about this country than anywhere else. I know more about how this government than a lot of current citizens and I want to make it better, which I couldn’t really do without voting.

I guess the big decision came when I decided to go to school in the US rather than Canada. That was really the decision that determined where I would spend the foreseeable future of my life.

In actually applying for citizenship it doesn’t feel like I made that much of a decision. It was something I was planning on doing eventually. I filled out the form and then over fall break in 2014, I got the picture taken for the application mostly just as a preliminary measure and then I found out that the picture submitted had to be 30 days current of the application date. My mom said I could leave the whole thing there, add the $680 check, and send it off in the mail. In all honesty I didn’t trust her to do all of these things in the next month, so I hustled and made it all happen in the next day — which I guess is the most day active decision I made in the entire process. I sent it all off in mid-October.

Around the first week of November my parents received a letter summoning me to DC for biometrics (fingerprinting) about a week or two after that. I’m lucky I was going to school outside of Philly and not across the country so I could make the appointment. It was the same building where I was fingerprinted for my green card. I waited in there for about an hour. No phone use was allowed. It felt like I was in there forever, but actually getting fingerprinted took about 5 minutes, if that. Then I went back to school and waited around for them to contact me again for the interview. That didn’t happen until late-mid January and they summoned me for the interview.

I took another day off of school for it. I was the only white person in the waiting room as well as the only person under 30 who wasn’t a baby/child. The interview went quickly. The six questions I was asked were:

  1. Define freedom of religion (the freedom to practice or not practice any faith)
  2. Name one state that borders Mexico (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California)
  3. What ocean is on the east coast of the United States? (Atlantic)
  4. When was the constitution ratified? (1789)
  5. How many senators are there? (100)
  6. When do you sign up for selective service? (at age 18)

After answering the questions I was asked to read a sentence out loud. From what I remember it was very short and about taxes. I was then asked to write out a slightly longer sentence that was also about taxes and my interview was over. The woman told me I was recommended for consideration and should receive a letter in the next 2–3 months informing me of the date and place of my naturalization ceremony. She also mentioned just before I left: “You can speak English so well, I can go so fast!” She did go extraordinarily fast — so fast, that I, as a native English speaker, had to ask her to repeat what she was saying so that I could understand it because her words were so rushed. That’s also a really racist statement to make to anyone who is applying to be a citizen of your country. All in all it feels like I was in that interview for 2 minutes.

I didn’t get any letters telling me I had got it or anything until mid-May when I got the letter telling me I would be in the naturalization ceremony at Monticello on July 4th.

In mid-June I was contacted to be interviewed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to promote the event. I was asked about my background which was all well and good until they started asking me questions like “How did you feel when you got the letter confirming you were going to become a citizen?” When I applied there was very little doubt that I would be rejected, and as time passed and I completed more of the tasks required become a citizen, my very small doubt became minuscule and even disappeared after my interview. As a typically white “American-passing” individual I felt very secure in my place as an immigrant and as a naturalization applicant. My place in this country has never been in jeopardy — I am so lucky for that. I have had a green card since I was five — citizenship is not a way for me to secure my place in this country, it is a way for me to have a voice that matters in the world, and in this country. It is my way of making sure I can make America better.

The question that followed was “How did you feel when you found out the ceremony would be at Monticello?” In all honesty I was expecting it. It’s why I wasn’t worried when they said I’d receive my confirmation letter in 2–3 months and instead it took 5–6. I live in the city where Monticello is located. I have been there countless times and at least twice in the past year. It’s safe to say Monticello’s charm has worn off on me. Knowing it was coming definitely made an impact. I probably would have had some kind of other negative reaction if I had found out it was going to be at a courthouse or something and not Monticello. Of all the places to be naturalized on the 4th of July, Monticello is probably top 3 or something and I guess I’m glad it’s happening there, but if I didn’t live here or have the expectation of it I would definitely have a stronger, more positive reaction. I mean its Thomas Jefferson’s house. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, the document that declared the war that created this country. Thomas Jefferson is also not the greatest human, but I get how I should be excited bout it. However, becoming a citizen to me isn’t about the event that happens while you’re becoming one, its about afterwards and what you do with your citizenship.

The last question I was asked was “What are you looking forward to the most about the ceremony?” The way this question is worded it feels like they want me to respond with how much I’m looking forward to swearing allegiance to this country and renouncing my previous citizenship. I really don’t know what to expect other than standing there in a mass of people repeating what I’m told to. The most interesting part which I guess I would be the most excited for is hearing other people’s stories. I feel like this commodifies people’s lives and their stories and struggles in a way that I’m not really comfortable with. Especially since I am also one of those people with a story. It may not be the “typical” immigrant story that you hear about, but it is one all the same. It’s a story that is probably more common than people think it is.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation is trying to make citizenship about the act of naturalization which, I guess I get because the interview was to promote the event. However, this goes beyond that because whenever I tell someone I’m getting my American citizenship I am met with a hearty congratulations filled with a pride and joy for me joining their nationality that I just don’t have for myself. My lack of enthusiasm about the process almost certainly goes hand in hand with the fact that I’ve lived here my entire life and was a child born to white Anglo Canadians, thus I can pass as a “regular” white American.

I am not becoming a citizen because I think America is the greatest or for the pomp and circumstance. I’m becoming a citizen because I have the greatest sense of how America works as a country, both historically and governmentally compared to anywhere else. And I feel like I have the greatest semblance of how to make it better. You need to be a citizen to be taken seriously on such issues, or even to make the slightest difference with the act of casting a vote.