I think I spent most of Friday in Oksana’s car. It sure felt that way after all the back-and-forth.
We started with breakfast at the Southeast Waffle Company. After carbo-loading, we had an hour to kill, so we went to our apartment. I sat my mom down in front of the PlayStation 2, put a Guitar Hero II controller into her hands, and forced her to play through the first two tutorials. She missed a few notes; I was concerned when her frustration began to show. But after she successfully finished the tutorial, I put another guitar into my step-dad’s hands and encouraged them to try playing a song together. Their first attempt went poorly because they started on the first song they recognized — You Really Got Me, by Van Halen — a tough one. Oksana and I suggested the ubiquitous Surrender and they managed to stumble their way through the entire song. They appeared more flustered than anything, and I thought they were about to give up entirely. Then they looked at each other and exclaimed, “That was so cool!”
Hook, line, and sinker! I think they would have played all day if we didn’t have a naturalization ceremony to attend. We piled back into Oksana’s car and drove downtown.
The oath was to be given in the Federal Courtroom in the Federal Building. We went through the two metal detectors Oksana and I were so familiar with from previous visits. Again, we surrendered all our electronic items, but at least we were allowed to keep our cameras this time. About 5 minutes before our 10:15 appointment, we filed into the courtroom. We found seats near the back while Oksana was ushered to the front. She, along with the other 37 soon-to-be U.S. citizens, turned in their green cards and verified the information on their new citizenship certificates.
Mr. Lee, our INS agent for the day, announced to the courtroom how the ceremony would proceed. The only thing each new citizen needed to know was that at some point they will be called to the podium. The only requirementwas to say their name and their country of origin. “Take 3 seconds or 15 minutes. This is your day and you can use your time at the podium to say whatever you like.” I scanned the list of names. If everyone used up 15 minutes, we’d be there over nine hours!
After Mr. Lee’s announcement, we waited. And waited some more. The INS had wisely scheduled the actualstart of the ceremony for 11am to give them 45 minutes to sort out any problems. There weren’t any, so we just twiddled our thumbs. I was planning to videotape parts of the ceremony, so I handed off my digital SLR to my mom. While showing her how to use it, Mr. Lee called her out and warned her against taking any photos in the courtroom. He explained that the judge might decide to relax the no-camera rule, but we wouldn’t hear from him until later. Just before 11am, the court clerk stepped up and announced the official rules: No flash, no exceedingly loud camera noises, no photographer to proceed beyond the gates to the courtroom proper. She didn’t mention video cameras at all.
Court began promptly at 11am. As soon as the the honorable Philip M. Pallenberg was seated, he pretty much overruled everything the court clerk just said regarding photos. Flashes are fine, families can step right up beneath his bench to take photos during the procession, and what’s more, the courtroom would be completely open to photographs after the ceremony ended. With families placated, the ceremony began.
Most courtroom proceedings are not joyous occasions and the judge opened with a few words about how much he enjoyed presiding over naturalization ceremonies. He introduced the special guests and speakers, and then Sara Chambers sang the Star Spangled Banner (beautifully, I thought.) Captain so-and-so from the Army spoke about the importance of service to one’s country. Exalted Ruler so-and-so from the Elk’s Lodge spoke about how great the Elk’s Lodge was, and President so-and-so from the League of Women’s Voters spoke about how great the League of Women’s Voters was. The Rotary, not even having a spokesperson present, was mentioned at least 3 or 4 times.
Finally, we got down to business. The judge had all the immigrants stand and raise their right hand. He broke the Oath of Allegiance down into sound bites and had them repeat after him. Mr. Lee walked among them and made sure no one was simply pretending.
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
We sure can’t tolerate those foreign potentates, us Americans.
A few minutes later, the judge led us all in the familiar Pledge of Allegiance. Interestingly, there was no give and take repetition for the new sworn U.S. citizens. I could only guess that they fumbled along as everyone else in the courtroom recited it verbatim. Ah, memories of elementary school.
Finally, Mr. Lee began to call each new citizen to the podium. The vast majority chose to simply say the minimum. A few added in a “thank you,” or a “God bless America.” Oksana was one of only a couple that took a moment to say something meaningful. I’m so proud of her.
Apologies for the shakey handheld shot — especially when I wave!
Click to download
After the procession, there wasn’t much left to dwell on. The judge had a just a few more words of encouragement and congratulations before he recessed the court. He then opened everything up and even posed for pictures. We followed Oksana around as she posed with her Russian friends, with the judge behind his desk, with me next to the flag, and all of us together off in the corner.
Out in the hallway, the League of Women voters provided a cake iced into the American flag as well as a table to register new voters on the spot. We stuck around only long enough to have a piece of cake, get Oksana registered, and grab one photo of Oksana standing next to Mr. Lee.
Oksana left the Federal Building as a U.S. citizen, with a certificate in her hand proving it was so. Too bad she had to go back to work.
(to be continued)