My country tis of thee… Good LORD did I have a patriotic week last week!!
As some of you may already know, I became a U.S. Citizen last Thursday, after many, many months of waiting and weaving through bureaucratic mazes, it finally happened!
In the simplest of forms, here’s what’s involved:
1) somehow you become a Temporary Resident of the US and you get a nifty card that says so. (I was young so not sure how it officially happens)
2) After a year (I think) you get your permanent residency and you get another nifty card to replace your old one. (Incidentally, this is how I lived for years – Permanent residency and living life, paying taxes, going to school, working etc, etc. The only thing I couldn’t do was vote.)
3) Apply to become a citizen after 5 years living as a permanent resident. Send a check for about $800 million dollars. Just kidding, it’s close to $700 – and then you wait.
4) A letter arrives asking for your finger prints. The FBI wants to see what’s up.
5) Another month passes and a letter arrives telling you they want to test you on American history and civics and “interview” you. Of the 1 million questions I studied, they asked me 6. Yes, just 6. Supposedly it’s 10 but if you get 6 right in a row, they stop “due to time constraints.”
6) Another month passes and you get a letter with your appointment date and information on where to take your Oath as US Citizen. Yay!!
Obviously there are people who wait months and months, if not years, to get from #3 to #6, but I gather that since I lived in the U.S. for so long and am, of course, and upstanding citizen, my wait proved to be shorter. And I thank you, U.S. Government!
The ceremony was held at the Masonic Temple in San Francisco (which kind of makes you wonder if all that jazz in “National Treasure” holds true) and there were 1,275 people from 109 countries there to take their oaths as U.S. citizens. It bothers me to say that many of these people could barely speak English … this really bothered me though it’s a topic best left to another post by another blogger all together. I’ll just leave it at that.
We were seated in an auditorium facing a stage. Like this:
And there were many of us in the crowd:
And we listened to all kinds of people talk about what it means to become a citizen, social responsiblity, government regulations, etc. This was done by an officer and colleagues of the local USCIS office in San Francisco.
We watched videos about Ellis Island, which talked about how the U.S. was founded on, created by and run by immigrants:
Then we took our Oath as U.S. citizens… one by one, each country represented was called out. I stood up proudly when Chile was called and waited as countries ranging from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan were called and their soon-to-be former citizens stood up. Once everyone was standing, we were asked to raise our right hand and say the oath which automatically made us U.S. Citizens.
Once we entered the auditorium, we were given U.S. flags which we all waved once the Oath was read:
We then sang the National Anthem (which I never sang so proudly before) and recited the pledge of allegiance. I’m sad to say that many, many people around me didn’t know the words to either … but I’m not the one who calls the shots on who gets to become a citizen and who doesn’t. All I can say is that I know the words to both and recited them loudly and proudly! Following this, we saw a video of President Obama welcoming us as Citizens of the U.S.
After all that, our official certificates proclaiming that we were U.S. Citizens where handed to us:
My story to get here is something out of a movie – a type of Sundance-nominated indie film. Not many people know it but suffice to say that this moment captured in the last picture above is a culmination of years and generations of sacrifice. And I’m happy to say that I’m one of the few people in my family who can claim to have the prestigious title of U.S. Citizen (out of over 60 family members, five of us are citizens of the United States). And I don’t feel that I’m cheating my country (the U.S.) by becoming a citizen later in life, because I know that I’m a model citizen, with hopes and dreams, and one who works honestly and who works hard. I know my country’s history, its language, symbols and customs more than I know that of Chile’s, the country of my birth.
I’ve never been so proud to be an American and I’ve never been more accepting of leaving my Chilean citizenship behind. For years, I completely associated myself with being Chilean, even when I had been a permanent resident of the U.S. for years and years. Now I know that any success I find here in Chile will be directly attributed to the successes I had in the U.S. I got into one of the best business schools in Chile – why? I’m willing to bet it has to do with my U.S based work experience and education. After all, that’s what sets me apart here in Chile… so nothing short of a FAT thank you is appropriate for the U.S.
And as much as it means the world to me to be a citizen of the United States, it means more to me that my children will, by default, also be U.S. Citizens. The opportunities I can extend to them because of all this are priceless. No matter where we live, I will teach them to be proud of their heritage, both Chilean and American. I will teach them to strive for that American Dream, just as I was taught to do many years ago… the same striving that has brought me much happiness and success today.