Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Almost-American

So yesterday was the big day--my USA citizenship interview! After nearly nine years here, it was the right thing to do. I don't ever want to sit through another election and not be able to vote! And I do want Jade not to have to go through the visa process and worry every year just to be able to stay in the same country as the rest of her family!

The day started by going through the metal detector at the immigration offices in Garden City. I'd stayed overnight so as not to have to battle the traffic early in the morning, and it helped just to get up and walk down the street to the interview. The officials were all very friendly. Either things at INS/USCIS have changed a lot since we arrived in the USA and went through the first visa process, or it just becomes easier the closer you are to being a citizen, but there was a definite difference. I like to think that the system, and the attitudes, have changed.

In the waiting room, lots of people, all ages, all backgrounds; many languages, faces, races. Half the room was still studying the civics questions; half just sitting and waiting. For the first hour or so, I people-watched, trying to guess where everyone came from, then realising I had sometimes badly misjudged when their names were called. I heard a lot of Chinese and Russian; some Japanese, some Polish and Spanish, and other languages I didn't recognise. Most people were dressed as if for a job interview; neat and tidy, not overdressed. One lady could have been a bag lady from a big-city street. A black gentleman walked in, totally immaculate in suit, tie, polished shoes, carrying a stetson with a feather. He looked amazing.

The immigration officers struggled a little with the Chinese names. On the applications, the names were transcribed as Roman characters, so the officers pronounced them as written, and the applicants struggled to guess if they were hearing their own name, or not. If no-one jumped up and claimed the name, the officer called it again, and then spelled out the letters... but of course, these letters mean nothing to someone who has not yet fully grasped the English language. I felt for both the immigration officers and the applicants. Chinese is a tonal language, very difficult to write phonetically with Roman characters and then have someone pronounce correctly. But despite this, all the applicants seemed to eventually be matched with their name, and go off, often with an immigration lawyer to their interview (the same lawyer was helping several people and was very busy yesterday!)

After a while the waiting became tedious. Have they already called my name, and I missed it? No... that lady with the painted fingernails is still here, and she was already seated when I arrived. How much longer will it be? What time is it? There is no clock on the wall, and no cell phones are allowed inside, and I really must buy a new watch...

But eventually it was time for my interview. The officer asked me questions about my application. He had obviously studied it before the interview, because he knew pertinent details about my travels for work. Then I had to answer a list of questions such as, "Have you committed any crimes for which you were not arrested?"

And then came the dreaded civics test. The "new" test involves a set of 100 questions. Helpfully, all applicants for citizenship are provided with these questions, and the answers too, so that you can study them for the interview. On the day, you are asked a set of 10 from the possible 100 questions (so you must be ready to answer all 100 as you do not know which you will be asked). From those 10, you must answer six correctly. And there is an English reading, and writing test too--mine were both sentences about Abraham Lincoln. (Abraham Lincoln was president during the civil war, that's an answer to one of the 100 questions.)

If you'd like to test your own answers to the 100, you can find the questions here: http://www.uscis.gov/files/nativedocuments/100q.pdf

And... I passed :-) and was recommended for approval for naturalization.

Then I had to wait in a different room for an hour or so, for a letter giving the date and time of my oath ceremony. That is when I'll really become a citizen. It's in a couple of weeks.

The atmosphere in the second waiting room was so different! All the applicants were smiling and hugging each other. One young Russian woman had tears in her eyes when an older man (her father?) came into the room, waving his letter and grinning from ear to ear. And it made me realise what a huge achievement, and what a dream realised, it is for so many people when they achieve citizenship. For me, the interview was definitely stressful, but it was in my own language, and I was not threatened with persecution or worse should I have to return to the country of my birth. But others are not so lucky--and they were so happy to have succeeded. (I'm happy too!)

Now I am going to be very, very good, and will not sink into a life of crime or debauchery between now and the oath ceremony. I am ready to swear.

4 comments:

Lorraine Rimmelin said...

Congratulations on this wonderful achievement. Thanks for sharing your story.
As an American citizen I've never given much thought as to the process of becoming a citizen. After you take your oath and go through the final ceremony we'll have a drink and toast YOU our newest citizen of the USA!

ChristyACB said...

Congratulations! Congratulations!

That is such a huge step and very big! Moreso even than a typical marriage in this day and age!

I hope you'll post a picture of your oath day.

Eileen said...

Congratulations!

matthew houskeeper said...

Congratulations!!!