the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
Mmm, baby: The very best in food porn
April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
April 19 2013
Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
by Hannah Sotnick
You put your stuff in a bin and feed it to the conveyor belt of the metal detector. You walk through. You grab your cell phone and purse and wait for the rest of your family to emerge from the crowd. You see your brother being patted down by one security guard while the other passes a metal detector over the spike in his ear. Your mom is freaking out: “They’re not going to give us citizenship with him looking like that.”
Fast forward 30 minutes, and you’re waiting to be called in to some office beyond a reinforced door. The monotonous hum of waiting room conversations drowns out the Fox News commentators on the television.
You read over the pamphlet, making sure you remember how many stripes and stars are on the flag (13 and 50, right?). You’re not sure why you’re so nervous: You passed Civics in seventh grade and you got a 5 in AP Government and Economics in 10th. A citizenship exam can’t be that difficult, right? How many senators are there? How many seats in the House? When’s Presidents’ Day? Who was the first president of the United States?
They finally call you. You’re escorted by a man, who introduces himself as José, into a sterile office furnished only with a desk and a small American flag. He seems friendly, smiling at you from across the smooth surface of the desk, his hands mechanically shuffling and organizing papers. He makes small talk, asking you about the weather in New York.
Then the test begins.
You read a sentence, so they can make sure you have some command of English. OK, you tell yourself, I got that down.
You have to answer questions like, “What’s the Bill of Rights?” or “Who is the speaker of the House?”
And then José asks, “Are you a communist?”
You want to laugh but you realize it’s probably not a joke. You answer “No” and bite your tongue.
“Are you a terrorist?”
Now it’s October.
You go home for the weekend because you have to attend the swearing-in ceremony, the last step in an almost decade-long process: visa, residency, and, finally, citizenship. Even though you’ve lived here for 13 years out of your 21, you need a piece of paper to make your status as a citizen of this country, your status as an American, official. What were you before? Argentinian? Argentinian-American? Way too many syllables.
Your mom makes you wear a dress to the ceremony even though your brother wore basketball shorts, a Sublime T-shirt and Adidas flip-flops. Because the appointment system for the ceremony is completely random, not all members of a family are sworn in at the same time. You drive over with your dad, who insisted on coming even though his appointment wasn’t for another three hours, and pull into the parking lot of a concrete building on 120th and 157th (read: basically the Everglades). You walk in through the automatic glass doors, your eyes adjusting from the brightness outside, and immediately feel the chilling relief of good ol’ Florida air conditioning. You pass the metal detectors without issue—you don’t have any spikes in any orifices—and make your way toward the auditorium where everyone else seems to be heading. You take an open seat even though it’s in the first row and try to look busy as you flip through the brochures you were handed just minutes earlier.
Then, when most seats are filled, music begins to play. At first you bob your head to the melody. You wonder what song it is; it’s kind of catchy. Then you realize it’s an instrumental version of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” and a little part of you dies. A man wearing a star-spangled tie comes onstage and, in necessary emcee fashion, asks the crowd, “How’s everyone doing?” People’s answers ring in an unintelligible jumble of goods, fines, and muy biens. He asks for a volunteer to come onstage to read the Pledge of Allegiance. You try to sink into your seat and hope no one notices you in the front row. Someone volunteers. You let out a sigh of relief.
Then the ceremony commences. The first part consists of naming, one by one, each country represented in the audience. Each country’s reluctant dignitaries stand up to intermittent applause. Argentina is first and there are only two of you. You stand up and wave at your compatriot. He doesn’t wave back. No big deal, he was bald anyway.
At some point, you get competitive. Brazil is called and three people stand up: an elderly couple who coordinated their outfits in red, white, and blue motifs and a guy in an Ed Hardy T-shirt wearing a studded leather bracelet. Argentina 1, Brazil 0. They continue to call down a list of countries, most of them in South America or the Caribbean. When they call Cuba, 60 out of the 100 people stand up. A solid 90 percent are octogenarians.
Then you are asked to stand up and, with your hand over your heart, repeat the Pledge of Allegiance after Liliana, the Puerto Rican woman who volunteered to read earlier. The older gentleman in a wheelchair next to you doesn’t seem too preoccupied with getting the words right and instead keeps hitting your leg as he eagerly waves his miniature American flag in the air.
After the pledge, someone dims the light and directs your attention to a photo montage being screened to the tune of Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” You feel your eyes getting a little moist. You will yourself to swallow back tears. That becomes easier when Guthrie transitions back into Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” and the emcee implores everyone to sing along. People abide and you’re horrified. The song ends and people look for their families. People hug, kiss each other on the cheek and laugh as they take pictures in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services crest. You find your dad and you walk toward the exit.
As you step out into the blinding light of a south Florida sun, you think, “Now you’re a citizen.” You’re still not sure what that means other than the fact that you get an American passport and you never have to worry about losing your green card again.
We're looking for comments that are interesting and substantial. If your comments are excessively self-promotional, or obnoxious you will be banned from commenting. Consult the comment FAQ and legal terms.
© 2011, The Eye :: Spectator Publishing Company, Inc.