A few days ago, I became a US citizen. Having first entered the country with a work permit in 2000, only my persistent French accent and lack of passion for baseball or football remind me of my “alien status.” Well, of course, this status also brings no rights to vote, participate in a jury, or run for federal office, as well as the uncertainty that authorities could revoke my right to work and stay in the country.
As a foreign worker in the US, I’ve had a few surprises. Once I was unable to attend a meeting because only US citizens were allowed to enter the building. I had traveled from California to Washington DC specifically for that meeting and found myself waiting outside as it was happening without me. Another time at the office of a defense contractor, I was escorted to the men’s room when I requested a bio break. For a minute, I wondered if I was supposed to keep my hands visible at all times.
As I entered the USCIS imposing neoclassical building in San Francisco to attend my Naturalization Oath Ceremony, I heard someone asking loudly, « Is there anyone who speaks Mojave here? » Did I hear that right? Further down the social distance respecting lane, a well-dressed white officer came to check the paperwork of the Asian woman ahead of me. He asked her if she spoke Mandarin. She nodded, and, to my surprise, he started talking to her in Mandarin for the next few minutes as we were getting closer to the clerk’s desk.
That’s when tears suddenly started coming to my eyes. I don’t know for sure if it’s God who speaks to us in mysterious ways, but surely our brain does the trick sometimes. I found myself thinking about my dad, who was a child when American soldiers freed Paris from the Nazis. He maintained a vivid memory of those soldiers giving away chewing gums, such a bizarre and luxurious treat. He would be ever grateful for America, supportive of its leadership, forgetful for its mishandling. He worked for IBM for over a quarter-century and became fluent in English.
Life had not started easily on him. The third of five kids whose parents divorced at a time when no one did and who were so incapable of taking care of children that the judge decided to grant guardianship to their grandmother, he was lucky to get to school at all and even more to meet a teacher who recognized his talent for mathematics and…