I am fascinated by naturalization, the idea that you can change your relationship with the state by swearing an oath (and filing tons of paperwork). How does it feel to go from immigrant to resident to citizen? Yesterday, my good friend Yuliya became an American citizen and was kind enough to take the time to tell me (us) all about.
Anne: hello American!
Yuliya: hi fellow citizen)
Anne: So how was the oath ceremony?
Yuliya: it’s structured and bureaucratic)) it’s just a local ceremony, so no speakers, just the judge telling us to volunteer and vote)) they did register us to vote right there and then!
Anne: Oh was that exciting?
Yuliya: getting registered to vote? well, it was unexpected.
Anne: What was the most surprising thing about the ceremony?
Yuliya: no, after the oath the judge asked people to volunteer their stories/emotions/whatever – a bunch of peoplespoke up, some where quite emotional and sentimental of 48 applicants, only 2 were from Mexico – I’ve been reading about the low level of naturalization for them, but it was still surprising.
Anne: what kind of stories did people tell? What was the most memorable story? –This is why I wish I was there!
Yuliya: what you would expect “it’s been a long journey, I am happy to be here”. There was a lady there and both of her sons are currently in the army deployed overseas – she was quite emotional. A high school girl or so was funny – she was like “that wasn’t my dream to come to US, it was my mom’s, I didn’t want to leave my friends, but here I am and it is kind of nice here!”)))
Anne: Did you share your story?
Yuliya: no))) it’s too long and I am too shy)))
Anne: Did you have to give up your Belorussian citizenship? I remembered that that might be an issue
Yuliya: you swear to give up any attachments too other countries – but no one takes your passport away. that’s not a problem from the American side, but from Belorussian.
Anne: Was it sad to give up your attachments? I mean I know you get still love your mom and friends but it might still be a little sad
Yuliya: I do still have to old passport and assume I can travel there freely, and I wasn’t planning to live there anyway… but it is a weird feeling, standing there with you right hand up and swearing… it did feel important. rituals do matter))
Anne: That is why they make you do it!
: So the ritual worked! Do you feel more American now that you are registered to vote? Did they sign you up for an American passport?
Yuliya: voting is one thing I am actually excited about – I have never voted before. or wanted to))). I need to apply for passsport at the post office, but they did give the application form.
Anne: You never voted in Belarus?
Yuliya: nope. wasn’t meaningful in any way, shape or form. more than that, they try to force you to vote – so refusing was actually more meaningful.
Anne: whoa! You are a rebel! You refused to vote? Even when the dictator tried to force you?
Anne: (I assume he came to your house and asked nicely)
Yuliya: i would probably vote if he did!)))
Anne: How does your mom feel about your new allegiance?
Yuliya: she was more sentimental than i was… it seemed to bring up a lot of emotions of me leaving home. also, it is the so called “International Women’s Day” – celebrated in Europe, former-Soviet countries and China, so everyone is a little tipsy and emotional… and my friends are teasing me about US gov giving me this nice present)))
but my mom is also hoping that now she will be able to come visit me here, she hasn’t been able to get the visa before
Anne: I hope she can visit you now! Do people feel like it is a “good” thing to be an American? Like, are they proud that you overcame all the bureaucratic hurdles? Or do they just feel like “whatever”
Yuliya: you mean the people who took the oath? it depended. mostly you could feel a sense of relief – from bureaucratic stuff, everything. immigration was a process to say the least. even though it gets progressively nicer as you get closer to the citizenship) there were a lot of smiles and congratulations))
Anne: Is it appropriate to say “Congratulations”? I feel like that is a weird thing to say– like I am saying America is better and you clearly are moving up the ranks
Yuliya: so do I! but people do say it all the time))) some people are apparently having parties up to a 100 people to celebrate) but, i guess, there is a reason i am here. aaaaand, just finishing jumping through all the hoops is a big thing in itself)
Anne: yeah I think it is a moment to celebrate!! Plus, there are a lot of benefits to having an American passport so I guess it is a step-up?
Yuliya: to the very least, it is a step. and, I am excited to be able to travel freely!!!!!!
Anne: Are you proud to be an American? I feel like lots of Americans aren’t and like to pretend to be Canadian …. I admit I am proud to be mistaken for Canadian when abroad
Yuliya: I have to say, I met very few Americans who are able to bluntly that they “are proud to be an American”))) there are a lot of things I dislike, but at that – there are a lot of things I like about the US and the Americans. I even got used to Americans smiling all the time))).
Anne: Well you are already embracing a great American tradition of ambivalence about being American! Are you planning to celebrate?
Yuliya: yes, I think part of American privilege is being able to dislike America))) but all my friends from home are now teasing me – demanding answers about all the bad things America has ever done – from the indians to Iraq… I may take up your “Canadian” idea)) Alexe’s god parents came for a visit – we are going out to eat…Chinese
Anne: Yes! that is solid plan! You should order the General Tso’s Chicken that is pretty American!
Yuliya: as long as Chinese food has broccoli in it, I feel I am safe in being a true American – at least for the day!
Anne: Well I should let you go celebrate! Anything else you have to say about the experience?
Yuliya: there was one aspect in which they were counting on us being different from the “average American” – we were seated on benches, 10 people per bench, and it was tight, even though everyone was pretty small… it’s rare for Americans to sit closely enough to touch each other, I feel – but that’s how we were)))
Anne: that is very crowded, but you started off not American so it was ok to sit 10 to a bench 🙂 Oh! What was the oath?
Yuliya: I’ll take a picture of it and send it to you – it’s pretty long)
: Did you have to “repeat after me”?
Yuliya: yep! They gave us a pamphlet, but we did repeat. I have to go now, but we can chat more later if you wish
Anne: that is ok! You go celebrate! I am excited that we are fellow citizens!