L.A. Convention Center

Becoming American in Downtown L.A.

Strictly speaking, every person born in North or South America is American.
But of course, we from the U.S. have gone and appropriated the term, much like we appropriate many things.
In any case, for lack of a better word, this post is about going through the naturalization ceremony and officially becoming an “American,” that is to say, a U.S. citizen, with all the rights thereto attached, such as the right to vote, open a business, worship, serve on a jury or be tried by a jury of your carefully selected peers, say whatever you want or remain completely silent.

My husband’s citizenship ceremony took place at the L.A. Convention Center on Friday September 27.
There were 4,152 new citizens from 140 different countries joining the ranks of 15 million naturalized citizens over the last 100 years.
It is a very unique experience to be amongst so much diversity, so many languages, religions, social and economic statuses, different age groups- all with one common goal: to renounce any prior nationality or allegiance and officially become American.

Upon entering the auditorium, red, white and blue music fills the air as guests press against the plastic caution lines that separate them from citizenship spotlight, while they scan the vast sea of heterogeneity for a familiar face.
I stand in the middle of a corridor staring on at a security guard asking a young tanned man to step back.
“I’m just looking for my wife,” he says, “See! That’s her right over there,” and he takes her picture while waving an arm in the air.

I see an empty seat by a woman speaking Tagalog.
I ask if I can sit next to her. She moves her bag, hands me a stick of gum and we tell each other our life stories.
Two giant screens at the front of the auditorium project high-resolution wavy flags with the words: “Celebrate Citizenship, Celebrate America,” over them.
In the middle there hangs a giant fabric flag, about 9 x 17 meters (10 x 19 yards) in size.
The lights dim.
An announcement designates the auditorium as a court of law.
We are asked to remove all non-religious headwear and to not take pictures of the judge.
Voter registration cards are passed out.
The new citizens are told not to fill them out yet.
I blow quiet bubbles on my watermelon flavored gum as Luz, my new friend, tells me about her 80 year old mother-in-law who is in a wheelchair and who has randomly decided to become a citizen for some inexplicable reason.

The oath is taken.
I imagine my hard-core Christian husband skipping over the part where he swears to bear arms in defense of his new nation.
As it turns out, he actually skipped the entire oath.
He says he just didn’t feel like saying it.
But he had already told that to the agent who interviewed him.
As a conscientious objector, he was exempted from swearing.
That is the kind of great country we live in.
You can become anything you want without having to make binding promises.

After the flag salute, tears of pride, and the national anthem, conversion to Americanism is capped off by showing the new citizens a music video of “God Bless America.”
Oh and there’s also a recorded message from President Obama somewhere in there.

Guests are asked to wait outside while the new Americans receive their certificates.
I look for a strategic photo spot as they start to exit through a wide corridor with people clapping on either side.
I text my husband, “Where are you? You’re the last one in line, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he replies. “All the way at the end.”
I start scouting the guests for interesting faces.
There is a man who looks like a younger, thinner version of Billy Crystal holding a bouquet of roses.
A nun who has just been naturalized passes by texting someone on her smart phone.
An older man in Air Force attire and a French-looking hippy flirt up a couple of Asian women.
At the end of the corridor, there are two groups of people putting on pressure to join their parties- Democratic and Republican.

Here and there solicitors try to sell you a folder for your certificate.
First $30.
Then $15.
Then $10.
All made in China.
God, the things we take for granted when we’re born here.

Back on the streets of L.A.:

Downtown L.A.
Welcome to America, where carrots save boobs.
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