I got an early ferry to the mainland (or “America” as we call it here on the island.) I was nervous and did not want to be late. Of course, I was way too early, so I sat in a Safeway parking lot for a while, then headed to the US Customs and Immigration Service office.
“Where are you from?” The parking lot attendant was a little older than me. She had red hair.
“Well, right now I live on Whidbey Island,” I said, evasively. It no longer seemed quite right to ask that of a stranger.
“No, no, originally!”
“Oh, England,” I said. It dawned on me that Thursday must be naturalization day. Everyone was from somewhere else.
We discussed our Scottish ancestors, hers via Canada, mine via England, and I paid my $8.
It was still early, so I sat in the car a while longer, reflecting on why I was there. I had been in the USA 35 years, and a permanent resident for 32. So why now did I want to become a US Citizen? Perhaps because in Donald Trump’s America my definition of freedom of speech or right of assembly might at some point intersect with the Administration’s definition of felony, for which I could be deported to Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain, where my UK passport would no longer give me right of abode in continental Europe.
Or perhaps because my time living in the upper left corner had restored my faith in this glorious experiment called American democracy and had persuaded me that I owed it my full participation. In July 2019 I applied for US Citizenship so that I would be able to vote in the 2020 elections. One month too late, here I was in the USCIS parking lot waiting for my interview.
Fifteen minutes before my appointment, I walked over to the USCIS building and stood in the security line. I put my phone, keys, belt, and shoes in the bin, walked through the metal detector, received a card with my number, P29, and headed up to the socially distanced waiting area.
I figured I would be waiting a while, but after about 2 minutes I was called in by a pleasant young man who took me to his office and seated himself at his desk behind a plexiglass screen. I handed over my UK passport and green card. He confirmed my identity by picture and fingerprints, and I swore to tell the truth. He gave my passport back but kept the green card. We exchanged some pleasantries about living in the northwest and discovered that we both were missing Victoria BC.
The interview and pop quiz followed. I am over 65 and have been a permanent resident for more than 20 years, so I did not have to take an English test and needed to answer correctly just 6 out of 10 softball questions from the civics test.
Q: “When is Independence Day?”
A: “July 4th” (Thinking — “they celebrate it in the UK too, they just call it Thanksgiving”)
I answered the first 6 civics questions correctly. Then there were 40 or so yes/no questions like:
Q. “Have you ever advocated the overthrow of any government by force or violence?”
A: “No.” (Thinking — “no, you’re thinking of Michael Flynn”)
Q: “Do you now have, or did you ever have, a hereditary title or an order of nobility in any foreign country?”
A: “No” (Thinking — “Yeah, right”)
Q: “Are you willing to take the full Oath of Allegiance?”
I stood, raised my right hand, and mumbled through my mask the words taped to the plexiglass.
“Congratulations, you’re a US citizen!” he said. That was it. No ceremony in the time of coronavirus.
After a couple of minutes, a lady brought my Certificate of Naturalization along with a packet containing my own miniature flag and a letter from the president. I was free to go. I could apply for a passport, register to vote, and serve on a jury.
On the way back to the car, I noticed the parking attendant in her booth. I walked over and held up my certificate to the window.
“Ooh let me see that, I’ve never seen one,” she said, sliding the window open to get a better look. “Are you happy to be a citizen?”
“Why? We’re all trying to leave! Not that there’s anywhere to go where the capitalists aren’t ripping off the people. That Boris Johnson is as whack-a-doodle as our Trump-a-doodle. And Biden is no better. He’s stuffing his cabinet with Obama’s warmongers. Yes, I’ve been a political activist my whole life!”
“We’re on the same page,” I told her. A car pulled up to pay for parking, so I said goodbye. I smiled all the way back to the ferry.