17 July 2009

Becoming a US citizen

I received my US passport in the mail today. It's pretty cool; it's got lots of security features (I don't know what they are, but I can tell they're there because the passport cover seems to have some kind of thin metal strip sandwiched between two sheets of paper) , it's visually appealing (each page has a different patriotic image etched into the background, like an American flag, or a photo of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon), and it's also quite an interesting read (each page has a different quote about liberty or the US from a famous person like Kennedy or Jefferson). But what makes it really special for me is that it's my first one.

Yup, I became a US citizen a couple of months ago, in an uneventful ceremony at the immigration center in San Jose. I went alone because I left the kids with Alfie, who worked from home. The notice for the swearing-in ceremony said the venue was very small, so I thought the kids might get restless and disturb what would be a solemn ceremony for many people. I didn't really mind being alone at the time; I figured it was just a formality, and for me it was -- until they showed a video with some pretty but cheesy images (fluttering flags, flying eagles, and other stuff the Stephen Colbert would fill his background video screens with) set to Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA .

I had a hard time fighting back the tears, but it wasn't because of the video or the words or the music (okay, maybe it was the music, a little bit, I'm not the flag-waving patriot type but I do like that song!). It was looking at all the people in that room, from every race and religion and every corner of the earth. All of them were here after months or years of waiting, waiting for the moment they could call themselves US citizens. People born in the US might talk about being proud to be American, and I'm sure they really mean it, but there's no better show of pride in the USA than actively seeking citizenship, jumping through all the hoops, doing all the legwork and paperwork and all other kinds of work that the application process entails. These simple people were really happy to be Americans -- And I was one of them!

The moment passed, and I filed along with the rest of the people in the room to receive my naturalization certificate, get a handshake from the INS official (I guess they call them Department of Homeland Security official these days) and grab some papers for voter registration. I went home and went about my daily business. But when I pulled my passport out of its mailing envelope, it all came back to me. No tears this time, but I had a nice, warm feeling inside that no Bush government and embarassing Iraq war and arrogant US-is-the-best-country-to-hell-with-the-rest-of-the-world attitude can diminish. I'm still a Filipino at heart, but despite all its faults, just like Obama, in no other country in the world could my story be possible, and for that I do love my newly-adopted country. It's great to be an American!

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