I realized my uncle Pablo wasn’t a U.S. citizen three years ago at our family’s Thanksgiving get-together. We were sitting around our dining room eating food and celebrating the holiday with my family, uncle, aunt, cousins and grandpa. Pablo had recently finished working in Abu Dhabi and was telling us stories about his travels in both the United Arab Emirates and all over the world. Suddenly, my grandpa asked if he was thinking of becominga U.S. citizen anytime soon. At first I thought that was a redundant question; of course Pablo’s a U.S. citizen, he’s lived here for almost half his life. But then I realized, just because you’ve lived here for a long time, that doesn’t make you a U.S. citizen.
My uncle Pablo has always seemed completely American, despite the easily detectable British accent. I had always known that he grew up in the United Kingdom but I just never made the connection that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Summers spent in Massachusetts with extended families would bring out the “American” in Pablo. Fourth of July celebrations and watching baseball can’t get anymore American than that. Plays were called “brilliant” instead of “awesome,” but hey, how cool is it to have a British uncle?
Pablo first came to the U.S. to receive his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Princeton University. He didn’t come to the United States with any clear plan for the future.
While spending a semester in Washington D.C., Pablo met his future wife Maureen. After marrying Maureen, they decided to stay in the United States. Pablo looked for jobs here and received his “green card,” which grants authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. When my cousins Lisl and Faith were born, it was more obvious that their home was in the United States.
When I heard Pablo was going to become an American I was very excited. We had learned a little about the process of becoming an American citizen in school and even took a practice test during class. Questions like “What are two cabinet level positions?” and “How many justices are on the Supreme Court?” had me stumped and here I am an American born citizen! But I had no doubt in Pablo; he is one of the smartest people I know.
Like all people wanting to become an U.S. citizen, the process is often long and hard. Each person who wants to apply for citizenship must fill out multiple documents and go to many appointments with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). One meeting includes fingerprints while another is an interview with an USCIS officer. Those applying for U.S. citizenship must also take and pass the speaking, reading, writing and civics tests.
We anxiously waited to hear the results of Pablo’s interviews and tests. My sisters and I would constantly hound my mom for answers to our questions concerning Pablo. My family was going to see Pablo become a U.S. citizen no matter what. Finally, Pablo was told that he passed and was to become a U.S. citizen on Monday, Feb. 6 at 8:25 AM . We were all so excited. We drove down to their hometown, Dallas, to see the ceremony. That Monday morning, we dressed in our best and went to the USCIS Office in Irving, TX, a suburb of Dallas.
The ceremony was held in a newly renovated room that had glass panels all along the room, giving the feeling of new beginnings and hope. You could feel the excitement in the room and I could not stop smiling. All the new citizens-to-be were seated at the front of the room, smiles wide. Family members and friends shuffled in holding cameras and waving to their loved ones.
It was a judge who conducted the ceremony and lead the Oath of Allegiance. Each new citizen-to-be raised their right hand and repeated the words back to the judge. As a judge administered the Oath of Allegiance, the sun seemed to brighten the room even more. Family members scrambled to get the perfect shot of them reciting the words that will change their lives.
That warm fuzzy feeling entered my stomach, trying to think of what the citizens-to-be were thinking while they were saying the oath. One minute you may be Canadian, but the next you’re American. Although they were just words, the Oath of Allegiance had such a powerful meaning. These people were committing themselves to the United States and were hoping to change their future for the better. All of them had come to the U.S. looking for something better and they had found it.
Next, we all stood up and “all together as American citizens” said the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve never recited the Pledge of Allegiance with that much meaning before. It’s not everyday you say the Pledge of Allegiance with 97 U.S. citizens who’ve only been U.S. citizens for the past two minutes.
Afterwards, the judge called out a list of countries each new citizen emigrated from. Altogether there were 31 countries being represented from the 97 new U.S. citizens. The countries that were called out ranged from South Africa and Afghanistan to Ghana and Mexico. It was surreal to see that even in the midst of a war, people from Iran and Afghanistan were being welcomed over and given new opportunities. Everyone stood up as their country was called, smiling and waving their miniature American flag as if there wasn’t a care in the world.
Going to my uncle’s citizenship ceremony was eye-opening. We take being American for granted everyday. As Americans, we have so many opportunities to take advantage that aren’t offered elsewhere. We can vote, we can believe in whatever religion we want and we have the chances to change things we don’t like. We live in a country that loves their traditions and speaking our minds. I can’t imagine being anything other than American.