In this case I didn’t really try anything new, I became something new. I became a U.S. citizen.
After missing my original Oath Ceremony because I was convinced it would take place at 7:00 p.m. not a.m. I was given a second chance to attend on January 26, 2012. This time I stood in line at 7:00 a.m. (well 7:10) and waited for three hours inside a basketball stadium for the oath to take place. Patriotic songs played in the background and every soon-to-be citizen was given a little flag and a packet full of brochures, passport and voting information, and a copy of the Constitution. While I waited I sat eating a Shipley’s donut and playing on my iPhone feeling exactly the same as I always have–only a lot more tired but glad to be missing work. The ceremony was pretty straightforward and uneventful for the most part: we said the pledge and sang the national anthem and listened to a nice but predictable “welcome” speech. Everyone stood up from where they were sitting raised their right hand and said “I will” after the judge read the oath. And that was that. I felt very matter-of-fact throughout the whole process, not in a bad way just very casual, not at all like a major change had just occurred.
But then people started congratulating their loved ones and I felt like I was watching the airport opening scene in Love, Actually. I didn’t know any of these people, but I could sense their happiness, their pride and that filled me with happiness and pride. There was a man from Africa in front of me and as he stood posing with his little flag while a friend of his took a picture I couldn’t help but smile and feel happy for him, for me, for everyone there whose life had changed in some major way that wouldn’t manifest itself immediately but would make itself known down the road for the rest of our lives.
And then something big DID happen. As my mom hugged me to congratulate me, I noticed she was crying. I was quick to make a joke about how she always cries but she told me that fifteen years ago on January 26 she had come to the United States with my grandfather so he could receive cancer treatment. The doctors in Honduras had told my family that he wouldn’t make it to Christmas, that we should all start preparing for the worst. Refusing to give up, my mom and my aunts and uncles all got together and with the help of their friends and some organizations they were able to raise enough money to bring my grandfather to Houston. My mom ended up falling in love with one of my grandfather’s doctors, got married, moved to the states, and on the anniversary of the start of it all I became a U.S. citizen. It all had meaning then. It had all been matter-of-fact to me before because I had forgotten the story. I had forgotten how and why I had arrived at that very moment. After living in the states as a permanent resident for almost fourteen years, citizenship didn’t seem that exciting except that I could now vote and wouldn’t need visas to travel to certain countries, but looking back at all the dots that had to connect so I could stand there on that day and pledge loyalty to the land of opportunity, the land where my grandfather found the aid he needed to live for two more years it all seemed really, really BIG and I only wished he had lived long enough to look back and see how all the dots connected and celebrate with me.
Te amo abuelito.