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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I’m officially red-white-and-blue!

Today, I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States along with 183 other immigrants from Mexico, Bosnia, Vietnam, Tonga, Venezuela (of course), and everything in between and all over.

I felt "detached" for most of the pre-ceremony, sort of in denial about it finally happening after 25 FREAKING YEARS!

I was required to show up an hour early to in-process which included taking my green card away. That's the only card I've ever had that said I had a right to stay in this country and now they wanted me to surrender it . Even though I knew I was trading it in for citizenship, I felt uneasy. Not having that card in my possession made me nervous.

I was given a packet containing information on how to apply for a passport, requirements for traveling overseas, and a booklet containing information about U.S. history and government. I read through those as I sat in the theater waiting for the ceremony to begin.

The ceremony itself was basically what I imagined (except I hadn't anticipated sitting next to a bilingual chatterbox). Mid-ceremony, I realized what a special part of my history this is and how I've taken my personal history for granted. The story of an immigrant sacrificing to come to this country and pave a way for her posterity was the story my descendants would one day tell about me. I felt like I was graduating.

At one point, the presiding judge named some of the countries being represented in the room and asked for volunteers to speak briefly in regards to their feelings about becoming U.S. citizens. I thought about talking myself out of volunteering, but I knew I'd regret it later if I didn't speak what I felt, even if I had to say it betwixt tears.

"My name is Adhis and I am from Venezuela. I have been an American for a long long time. I have been American in my heart, in my soul, in my actions, in my duties and in my loyalties. And finally today, I am officially and on paper an American."

The ceremony concluded with a video from President George W. Bush welcoming new citizens and then a video montage set to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA". Cheesy, yes. Tear-jerker, still.

"And I wont forget the men who died, who gave that right to me."

My mind returned to Dan's sacrifice in the name of defending freedom and I felt particularly thankful that my friend died to secure for me that blessed right. Always will Memorial Day, Dan Eggers and my U.S. citizenship be entwined.

Afterwards, I returned to the desk where I had turned in my green card to pick up my certificate of citizenship. I sighed as I noticed it had attached one of the many unflattering photos I have had taken in my immigration process, but then I relinquished my vanity and smiled at my certificate. On the way out, I was given a voter registration form before looking for my family in the lobby.

There I was met by a perfectly cliché-looking crew: a doting husband, a very pregnant sister and her darling 1-year-old, my mother wearing a U.S. flag pendant with flashing lights, and my father wearing a suit and a tie featuring the U.S. flag and the Statue of Liberty. Tons of grins all the way around.

Now, I sit reflecting on the day with a belly full of food from the local Venezuelan restaurant, looking at that silly photo of me saluting. Tomorrow, I will wake up to another day like yesterday. I will still have to brush my teeth, wash the dishes, and feed the dog. And I will do it happily in a country where I have the freedom to choose a mundane life.

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