Today I became a US citizen!
I am glad it happened, and I look forward to voting, even jury duty (!), and being able to travel to most places in the world without getting a visa.
But I can't say I am elated. Getting citizenship, like getting a PhD or tenure, was anticlimactic for me. Of course, my annoyingly positive and upbeat husband, who got his citizenship in October and was able to vote in the presidential election, says he was really happy to become a citizen. So of course now I am the fucked up one for not being ecstatic.
I don't know. I feel what I feel. I think I was more excited about getting the green card, because it meant that, even if this science thing didn't work out, I would not have to go back to my sad little country and could stay here and work at McDonald's if need be.
I have been in the US for almost 14 years. First as a student on an F-1 visa until graduation, then on the so-called OPT (optional practical training) which extends your student status for up to a year (not sure if it's more now) while you presumably look for a job that would get you an H-1B visa. I had H-1B for a little under 2 years (it used to be that you could only hold it for up to 6 years, not sure what the duration is now). Right after receiving the H-1B, I started the process for a green card through my university, which I received a total of 2 years into my faculty appointment, in mid-2006. As I said, getting the green card was a major, major deal. I have foreign colleagues who never go for the citizenship and simply remain permanent residents indefinitely. But, for us who want to be become naturalized and are not married to a citizen, you wait 5 years after receiving the green card and you become eligible to apply for citizenship. We had a baby in 2011, which occupied us physically and mentally, so we didn't start the citizenship process till 2012. Getting the citizenship required several trips to a city ~ 2 hrs away and we didn't want to leave our kids without one parent in town, so we decided my husband would do it first, as he was really adamant about voting in the recent election. Perhaps part of my lack of enthusiasm about the whole thing stems from him already having done it so I knew what to expect every step of the way.
I had already been figerprinted and photographed multiple times, and passed the interview which tested the basics of civics and a very basic level of written and spoken English. So today was the final step -- pledging allegiance to the US under oath. First I got really stressed out on the way there, as I didn't think I would make it on time because the freeway was congested owing to an accident. But I did make it. The ceremony was in a courthouse, over 70 applicants in my time slot, with new batches throughout the day, about every two hours, so there were several hundred people going through the same thing today as me. That certainly didn't make the thing particularly special to me. It took an hour for everyone to go through security and through document check. The ceremony was presided by a judge who shared a nice personal story about her own immigration as a child and was very positive about the whole event. Then we read the Oath of Allegiance and officially became citizens. Many people brought their family and friends to observe and rejoice. There were some kids from a local middle school who were there to observe as part of a civics class; the poor kids were told to shake all our hands and all I thought was "Eww, germs."
The part I truly enjoyed was being on my own in my car, driving on the open road on the way back. I stopped for gas and stocked up on beef jerky and sausage sticks. I am a big, big fan of beef jerky and I love stopping at obscure convenience stores in the middle of nowhere. In fact, I love everything about travel. I even love travel by plane, I love airport gift shops and bars, I even love airline food on international flights -- I know you are not supposed to say that, because it's fashionable to detest it as it shows your sophisticate palate, but I love it. Actually, I think I might love anything I can eat in peace and sitting down. But I digress...
So my citizenship certificate, my beef jerky, and I had a nice relaxing ride back home, with a CD blasting. I think I was smiling pretty much the whole way back. Coming to think of it, I think I actually was happy about finally getting the citizenship. Maybe just not happy in the way you are "supposed" to be happy, chirping to my husband and waving my certificate in the face of anyone who's too slow to run away. Or maybe I just have indigestion from all that beef jerky and it's making me cranky.
So to all of you immigrants out there, here's to getting your green card and your citizenship and to having these experiences be as deep and meaningful as you want them to be. Ever since I moved to the US, I have loved this country as if it were my own; as of today, it actually is.