On Monday, November 16, 2009 my wife became a United States Citizen. It was a long process.
I had been to Peru previously and one day I was in a chat room that allows the participants to list their place of origin. Seeing a girl from Lima, I sent her an IM and we ending up chatting for hours. After making plans to meet online again, we proceeded to chat daily for weeks to come. Later, I found calling cards that allowed us to talk on the phone nearly every day. I visited her and her family in Peru twice. We got engaged. She came to the country on a fiancé visa and we were married within the prerequisite 30 days of her arrival. That was a little over five years back and now we have a four year old son.
Katia had originally planned on marrying an urbane animal lover who would join her in protesting against all forms of animal cruelty - especially sport hunting. Instead, a chat room gave her a hunting, fishing, trapping, forester who lives and works in Lower Alabama.
Earlier this year, I made plans for a week of deer hunting in Missouri. I’d finish up work in Alabama early on Friday the 13th and drive straight through the night so as to be in the field for first light on opening day of rifle season: Saturday, November 14th. Then the letter arrived from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). Her citizenship interview would take place at 9:25 AM on Monday, November 16th.
It might not rank up there with donating a kidney, but I did sacrifice the opening four days of rifle season to travel with her to Atlanta.
In the weeks leading up her interview Katia had me read from the official list of questions after supper and before we went to bed. We went over them again, and again, and again. By the time we got to Atlanta, I think I could have passed the citizenship interview!
Seriously, it was a good general review of material that I hadn’t studied since High School Civics with questions and answers concerning: our government, laws, wars, elected politicians, Constitution, rights, duties, privileges, and Founding Fathers.
The BCIS building was large, new, clean, and efficient. Everyone went through a metal detector and security screening. There were hundreds of people going in and out.
They called Katia in very close to her appointed time. Although she was nervous, I knew she had the information down cold. About 15 minutes later Katia came back with a smile on her face. She was supposed to return at 2:00 to get ready for the swearing in ceremony.
We met my best friend Mike at his office downtown and he walked us over to the CNN Center food court. It was my first time in the building and I hope to go back and see more of it when there is time.
Mike had flown up for opening weekend in Missouri, but hadn’t gotten any shots before flying back to Atlanta on Monday morning. He was planning to drive back to Missouri on Wednesday to join me for some more deer hunting. The two of us take our deer season very serious.
After a quick bite, we drove back over to the BCIS building and worked our way through a much longer line at security. I asked Katia "How many nations do you think are represented in this line?"
The large waiting room outside the Ceremony Room was completely full so they took Katia but sent Joseph and I upstairs to wait for the beginning of the official ceremony. About 30 minutes passed before they came to retrieve family members. We descended to the 2nd floor and eventually filed into the back of the Ceremony Room. Katia was in the last row of people to be naturalized so Joseph and I were able to sit directly behind her.
A lady stood at a podium in front of the assembly. She told us there were 190 candidates representing 58 countries at today’s ceremony. As she read from the list of list of countries each candidate had to stand when their country was announced. Then she asked if she had missed any countries. About five additional countries were added to the list by people who would soon be US Citizens.
I learned a new country when Katia told me the woman next to her was from Dominica, which I had assumed was the Dominican Republic. It’s actually a small island-nation in the Lesser Antilles.
With everyone standing, they read the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America. I had three cameras, so I was able to get multiple photos of various megapixels. Most of the photos consisted of the back of Katia’s head and hand from slightly different angles as I leaned to left, leaned to the right, and stood on tippytoe. Joseph waved his small American flag furiously back and forth.
With the Oath of Allegiance completed, the lady in front asked everyone in the room to face the American Flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I removed my hat and tried to do my part, but the words wouldn’t come. I was so choked up that at most, a syllable or two was all that I could croak out.
After the Pledge of Allegiance we sat back down and they played a video message from the President, congratulating the freshly minted US Citizens. I sure was glad it was a man named "Barack"delivering the message instead of some old "John".
With Obama’s message finished, they switched to a video montage of patriotic snapshots while playing that corny, sappy, but entirely appropriate song by Lee Greenwood: "God Bless the USA" AKA "I’m Proud to be an American."
Over the previous six years there had been: many interviews, tons of paperwork, days off from work driving Katia to Birmingham for fingerprints, and thousands of dollars in fees, but it was all worth it that Monday afternoon.