The New York Times lay discarded at my feet by 8:30. The New Yorker managed to keep me company until 9:15 at which point I was left with David Mitchell and Cloud Atlas. Or Court tv. The large room with neat rows of black chairs was half filled and hushed. Every so often, a door would open and an immigration officer would appear with a sheet of paper to call an unpronounceable name. Precedence was given to people with disabilities and then a long string of Asians took their turn. People with lawyers also appeared to go in and out swiftly. Maybe they keep Italians last, I wondered. Maybe part of being inducted in the citizenship club requires a test of endurance.
I had arrived at the Federal Building downtown at 7:40 am, for my 8:15 appointment. The nice guard outside assured me that coffee was available inside but one look at the rickety pushcart in the Grand Central Station sized lobby put me off food and coffee within moments: if the plastic wrapped pastries looked so hideous, what hope did I have for joe? I spotted a business opportunity right there and then.
At 9:45, after exchanging text messages with relatives caught in an earthquake and dealing with some work e-mails, my (very mis-pronounced) name was finally called. I followed a pleasant Hispanic lady, missing two front teeth, through a maze of small offices and partitions until we reached hers, where my file stood atop a mountain of others. At this point, I feel like the US government, the FBI, the CIA and whomever else approved my visas, residence permits and, now, citizenship application, knows more about me than I will ever remember.
I was asked to swear, right hand raised, to tell the truth, nothing but the truth (although there was no mention of God) and I proceeded to answer questions ranging from whether I was ever a Communist to whether I had problems with alcohol. I guess I am too young to be asked about Nazi affiliations. I promised to bear arms and serve my country if ever asked and I rattled the answers to the civic and history questions I had so carefully studied. It’s not true they just ask you who the President is – I was asked 6 of the more obscure questions out of the 100 we are given to study.
It was actually the best part of the process. For the first time I found American history interesting and looking at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a bit more in-depth than I had ever bothered before, many political and juridical wranglings still going on today made a lot more sense. Best of all, I like the idea of belonging to a country that explicitly guarantees my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is my legal right to do the utmost to create my own happiness. Whatever those Founding Fathers did or did not do, whether the Constitution should or should not be written in stone, they certainly got something right.
Technically, I am not an US citizen yet. They could still find reasons for not wanting me until I am officially sworn in – although, who wouldn’t want me?? After years of wanderings, procrastinating and not fully belonging anywhere, at least in my mind, it looks like I found a home. And one that wants me to be happy.