We filed through the doors and immediately had to empty our pockets and were searched with various detectors. Once inside a little room off to the right, my wife was forced to give up her green card and was hustled off to one side of the room while I was forced to sit on the other. It was hot, more families were brought in and summarily split up just like ours. Fortunately, my parents, grandparents and even an uncle were already there waiting for the oath taking ceremony which would make my wife as much of a United States Citizen as I was. A process that we began in the fall of 2003, almost five years ago this month, was finally coming to an end.
The ceremony itself was pretty disappointing. There were no emotional speeches and the speaker whom I refer to as Nurse Cratchett, seemed rough as nails. She actually made comments like, "this is the part where you should stand up and waive your little flags around" that I felt belittled the solemnity of the ceremony and the participants themselves. But in the end, I don't think anyone minded too much because this day had been so long in the coming, upwards of fifteen years for some of the people, so they were more focused on life after the ceremony.
The one highlight for me was Ted Tran, a very famous Hmong refugee here in Iowa who came over in 1981. He and many others were the result of legislation signed in 1975 by former Iowa Governor Robert Ray which made Iowa one of the first in the nation to take these people into our care and give them new lives. Ted Tran was "adopted" by the Farmer family and has been the focus of several documentaries. Unfortunately, he didn't speak and just handed out welcoming packets to the new U.S. citizens.
After the ceremony, we drove up to the park north of the capital where my grandparents were camping out in the motor home and had a traditional picnic of barbecued pork chops, potato salad, baked beans and some garden fresh tomatoes (from my parent's garden). It doesn't get any more American than that.
My wife has been emotional about the whole process but for her, I don't think it has to do with becoming a U.S. citizen. Instead, I think she feels that she is less patriotic towards her home country of the Philippines. Although the United States doesn't recognize dual citizenship, they don't have laws saying you can't remain a citizen of another country so my wife can still retain her Philippines citizenship. Although I'm excited that she has the same rights as myself, I will not care a wit if she chooses not to exercise them. That is now one of her freedoms.
Looking back through the five-year process, I can't say that it has been bad. Years ago as a member of the ASAWA forum which mostly dealt with others in my position (Americans married to a Filipinos and applying for visas, residence and citizenship), it seemed scary reading of the many bad experiences people were having. But in almost every case, I would see a form that was fudged, a requirement that had not been met, etc. My wife and I filled out the forms truthfully and met all the requirements such as no criminal records, sufficient earnings, etc. and never had problems other than the many lengthy waits and trips to far off government buildings. Those are over and my wife's journey to become a citizen is over but our dealings with the government must continue. Mrs. Abbey must take her resident status off her social security number so that she can receive her benefits when she retires. She needs to obtain her passport which allows her to go almost anywhere in the world without first obtaining a visa and she can register to vote so that if she choose to participate in our election process, she may do so at any time. Finally, she may decide to someday pass this opportunity onto someone else such as her brother by petitioning them to become a United States citizen, a process that takes fifteen years to complete. But for now on this day, she is just a United States Citizen and I am her very proud husband.
Congratulations Mrs. Abbey!