A Citizen’s Journey

This week.
THIS is the week that my husband became a U.S. Citizen.
This week where I have mentally retreated beneath the blanket of oblivion.
This week where the greatest US President in my lifetime, possibly of all time, is leaving office.
This week.
This week when fear that we have failed our Promise “bigly” has mobilized millions of people around the country and around the world to rage against this ugly truth.
This week when the air is pregnant with schadenfreude and smug disdain.
This week.
I approached his ceremony with equal parts relief and dread.
The relief is salve to my heightened survival instincts – more flight than fight, but there’s still time for that to reverse before the March. I do think the worst of our future and knowing that my husband is safely labeled “one of us” backs off just how ‘doomsday’ I allow my mind to wander.
He has been eligible for citizenship for years, but only now pursued it to safeguard our family from the uncertainty ahead, to protect our choices. Were the situation reversed, I would not relish making such a significant commitment with a ticking clock tied around my green card.
I resent my country FOR him.
I sat smugly through opening remarks, recognizing the distinct stench of propaganda in the videos. (People don’t hate marketing, they hate ham-handed marketing.)
I eye-rolled when the bureaucrat in the ill-fitting suit touted America as the land of freedom and prosperity. THE Land. Like there is only one.
The government worker who wrote and delivered a speech, honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., was an African American woman. Despite including visionary quotes, I was uninspired. Where were the great orators and accomplished immigrants welcoming these new Americans?
I kept thinking about ways to make this event a more authentic, honest experience. The contrived video montages with images of what I can only assume are (what some people think are) immigrants and of National Parks, frankly left me more confused than anything. There was no nostalgia or inspiration or warmth. Maybe that was just me.
When President Obama’s video played, I was, as expected, riveted and exchanged a twinkly eye with my husband when it finished. Thank goodness he was welcomed to citizenship THIS week.
As another woman led us through the Pledge of Allegiance, I wondered if it also bothered her to be pledging fidelity to an object, “Under God.” I wonder who else in the room raised a suspicious eyebrow to the line “liberty and justice for all” when there is so clearly not. They’re just words recited out of habit as we go along our little lives and hope we squeak by the wrecking ball unscathed.
I probably read as ungrateful and self-important, or chronically cynical. I’m not. The turmoil of emotions inside me included bursts of pride, nationalism and gushy, mushy waves of love for this man who would do anything for me, for our daughters, including swallowing his pride… again.
When it was time for the certificates to be handed out, each of the 115 people from 40 nations stood up and made their way forward to be welcomed to Team USA with a hearty congratulations and handshake.
It wasn’t a single moment, but the culmination of the experience that humbled me. The great weight of realization that my lens of this experience was both narrow and obtuse became unbearably heavy. I needed to check my privilege.
Maybe it was the man who raised and waved his miniature flag during ‘America the Beautiful.’ I felt his longing poignantly. My heart swells at displays of enthusiasm. How many times have I been dismissed as uncool for my joie? Too many. “You sir, are my people.”
Maybe it was the beautifully complicated names read aloud, each receiving a moment of recognition, a reverent undertone.
Maybe it was those with interpreters who have chosen to make a life in a place where they aren’t yet proficient in the language. How brave to dive into unknown adventure!
Maybe it was the women whose smile beamed light as she looked toward her friend for a celebratory photo. How long had she waited? What does this mean for her and her family?
Maybe it was the little boy who shouted out “Mama!” when he saw her queue for her paper. Is she the last to win her secure status? Or first? It makes me cry just typing this.
My husband comes from an egalitarian land of prosperity and freedom. I would count it as one of the many democracies around the world with quality of life that put ours to shame.
But I forgot for a minute that there are also many places that do not, where the promise of self-determination, freedom of speech and religion and press, where pluralism are quite foreign and literally awesome concepts.
This week, I was reminded of the lesson I only internalized the first time I lived abroad: that the United States is a complicated and beautiful amalgamation of cultures and peoples.
Denigrating our diversity is the most un-American thing one can do.
At least, that’s the belief to which I pledge my fidelity.
And that’s how I’ll survive this week.

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