After 17 Years, I Am an American

On Wednesday, I became a US citizen.

I haven’t mentioned it on the blog, first because it’s been on the calendar since the beginning of February, so it had assumed a “way in the future” feeling for me. Second, because until I was in the ceremony, reciting the Oath of Allegiance, I was kind of apprehensive that something would happen to screw it up and I’d be back in the black hole of the USCIS bureaucracy. 

But it happened. After 17 years, I am an American.

After 17 Years, I Am an American

I swore the oath and the judge presiding said to me and 60 other people from 29 countries, “Congratulations, you are all now US citizens.”

I first arrived in the country in June 2000, on an impossibly hot and humid weekend. My friend Laura, whom I’d lived with in Venice, met me at JFK to spend my first weekend in New York City with me. America had never been on my list of must-visit places. I did want to visit Alaska (still haven’t made that trip!) and after studying art history, there were plenty of museums and buildings I wanted to visit in person. But all in all, it probably wouldn’t have even made the top ten list of places to travel to until I was accepted for an internship at MoMA in NYC. I was here for 2 months, staying in a ridiculously amazing apartment in Chelsea. Laura told me as we stood on the patio (that was bigger than a couple of apartments I lived in subsequently), gazing at the view of the Hudson River and downtown Manhattan, “I just want you to know you are living in an apartment that only exists in movies.” She was right, but at the time I remember thinking the place was a little small. I definitely was not yet a New Yorker!

Of course that 2 months turned into much longer, and of course I ended up settling here permanently. You can read a little more about my early, green days in NYC here, in my love letter to New York as I was leaving to move to Vermont.

I had all sorts of issues with immigration from the beginning. Everything took way longer than it was supposed to, then when I finally got my green card it said I was born in French Polynesia (a USCIS mistake that would come back to haunt me a few times) and I had to start all over again to get it reissued. Trips to the USCIS in Manhattan and Brooklyn were a nightmare. A long-planned trip overseas to Ireland meant I had to bring a stack of paperwork nearly two inches thick and be interviewed for over an hour at the airport in Dublin by USCIS officers, with an immigration lawyer’s cellphone number on a card in my pocket (thanks mainly to that French Polynesian green card). It sucked. And I’m a college-educated, English-speaking girl from Australia, an ally to the US. If I had a difficult time navigating the system, imagine how hard it can be for people from non-English speaking countries, with little education, who are just trying to make a new life in the United States. 

Toward the end of January this year, I had an appointment for my civics test and, ostensibly, to take the Oath of Allegiance and be naturalized as an American citizen. I passed the civics test with flying colors (thank you studying and being fascinated by history!), but then the officer interviewing me said, “You’re a great candidate and I see nothing impeding you becoming a citizen, BUT…” Ugh. Not what you want to hear when you’re expecting to raise your right hand and solemnly swear. Turns out there was a file for me that had a different alien registration number (Yep, thank you again, French Polynesian green card!!) and the officer had to review the file before he could approve my application for naturalization.

After 17 Years, I Am an American

My friend Lishy surreptitiously took this photo of me studying when she visited late last year. šŸ™‚

Happily, it took a short time for that review to happen and I soon received the letter telling me to appear at a naturalization ceremony. I had not expected any pomp and circumstance – I really was all prepared for the in-office swearing in the day of my test. I didn’t think I wanted a formal ceremony. But it was wonderful.

It was so special to be part of a group of people who were all so happy and proud to be becoming US citizens. Everyone was dressed up and I’d say 80% of us were nervous. When I checked in, my hands were shaking as I handed the officer my final paperwork and green card and I dropped the card. “I’m sorry,” I told her. “I’m just really nervous.” She smiled at me and said, “It’s okay. In an hour, you’ll never have to deal with all this paperwork again. Congratulations.” 

Before the ceremony began, I got to know my immediate seat mates, a couple of Canadians, a Swede, a Thai and someone from the UK. The Canadian guy next to me told me his daughter works on the border between Canada and the US and she called him this year and said, “Dad, you need to get citizenship. Please just do it as soon as you can.” Everyone I spoke to had actually been in the country with permanent residency for a long time, and every single one of them said the same thing, “I don’t feel safe anymore just with a green card.” It was an eye-opening experience of our political climate.

After 17 Years, I Am an American

I was unexpectedly emotional during the ceremony. I say unexpected, but two friends I spoke to that night said, “Of course you cried.” I guess they know me better than I do! šŸ˜‰ I was really happy that my boys were there to watch me becoming a citizen. I was so grateful to Fran for bringing them – he said he wanted to be there as well since we went through so much crap as a couple trying to get me official. He was with me at every USCIS appointment and on one memorable occasion grabbed the back of my shirt because he seriously believed I was about to lunge over the counter and attack someone. Fran’s mom also came along to watch and presented me with a copy of the US Constitution as a citizenship gift. 

Tanner, of course, had no idea what was happening, but Roman was actually really excited about it all. I’d been telling him for a week that mama was going to become an official American citizen and after the ceremony, he was running around with an American flag yelling, “Now my mama is American just like me!” 

After 17 Years, I Am an American

Don’t be fooled – they look sad and grumpy because they hate pictures (and Tanner was tired). 

My next steps are to register to vote (and probably get called for jury duty within a week, ha ha), and apply for a US passport. It feels good to know I can be 100% involved in being part of this country. I’m sure I will be surprised (and my friends will not) when I get all teared up the first time I go to vote as an American as well.

While Australia is my childhood and my heart, this country is so much a part of who I am as an adult. I’ve been through so many major life experiences while living in the United States. It’s a big part of who I am. I’m proud to be an American citizen and be an official part of this great country.

Comments

  1. Congratulations!
    Judy

  2. Yay! Congrats! Despite all my complaints over the last year, there is still no other place I’d rather live or be a citizen of:)
    Paria@momontherunsanity.com recently posted…Expressing MotherhoodMy Profile

  3. Jan Hilder says:

    Wonderful story & post Min xo

  4. Big huge congrats!!!!!

  5. Futures so bright you gotta wear shades!! I’m so happy I was part of that childhood in Australia, and so thankful for technology to be able to watch out on your future. May you forever be what you dream to be.

  6. Eileen and Ben says:

    Carly, that is a very moving account of your route to citizenship. Your gift of expression continues. Get right on the voter registration–you want to be ready and able to cast your first of many votes (we are two days away from school board vote –they are just as important).

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