Last night, Miss D. and I drove down to the DFW metroplex. This morning, I'll take the oath of allegiance and become a citizen of the United States of America.
It's been a long journey to get here. When I first became eligible to apply, after having held a permanent residence permit (the so-called "green card") for five years, I was in the throes of medical treatment for a nasty injury suffered during my work as a prison chaplain. That, and its (permanently partially disabling) consequences, took up all my time and attention for several years, as I worked to rebuild my life and get back on my feet. (My books are a product of that experience.) Applying for citizenship took a back seat to those painful realities.
When I met Miss D. in 2009, she encouraged me to pursue the matter, and after we married, I did so - only to run into a bureaucratic roadblock. You see, the USCIS (which handles citizenship applications) wanted five years worth of tax returns, to prove I was paying my fair share towards our nation. However, because my income had been workers-compensation-related for several years (and thus not taxable), I hadn't met the minimum taxable income threshold that requires one to submit a tax return. This did not satisfy USCIS, unfortunately - no tax returns, no citizenship!
I therefore approached the IRS and asked to file amended tax returns for the appropriate period, only to be told that this would be a waste of that agency's time and resources (because I still wouldn't owe any tax, after all), and therefore I should not do so. Attempts to get the rival bureaucracies to talk to each other and sort out the problem were fruitless; so I had to start all over again, filing taxes jointly with my wife and building up a new record as a taxpayer in that way. (A big "Thank you!" to all of you who've bought my books, thereby giving me a taxable income once more! In that sense, you've actively helped me become a citizen.)
When I filed a new application for citizenship, I was advised that the process would take a long time (years rather than months), due to a backlog of applications. I resigned myself to a long wait. It took more than a year before my interview came up, at which I was tested on my knowledge of US civics and other matters. However, in the interim, a new system had been put into operation; and when I passed the interview, I was advised that my naturalization ceremony would take place only a week later. This was wonderful news.
Becoming a US citizen will be a very solemn, moving moment for me. I take the oath of allegiance very seriously. I've already sworn part of it when taking the oath of federal law enforcement office as a prison chaplain, well over a decade ago. The citizenship ceremony will add to that an abjuration of any and all previous loyalties. In that sense, it'll be a final, formal, legal and official severing of my ties to South Africa, where I'd spent almost two-thirds of my life so far.
Over the past few days, ever since learning that US citizenship was imminent, I've found myself haunted by the memories of my friends in South Africa who did not survive the terrible civil conflict that led to democracy in that country in 1994. (I've written of them, and of that time, here, and in several other articles.) It may be whimsical of me, but it feels as if many of their shades will be keeping me company as I swear the oath of allegiance.
I think that perhaps one can be a more dedicated citizen of the USA if one comes to it from outside, as it were: jumping through all the legal and administrative hoops, having to earn the right to be assimilated into a new country and a new culture, rather than born to it. I've tried hard to assimilate already. I don't want to hold on to past loyalties and be what Theodore Roosevelt would have called a "hyphenated American". In a speech to the Knights of Columbus in New York on October 12, 1915, he said:
There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts “native” before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else.
The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic. The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.
That's the kind of American I shall strive to be. Thank you, all my American friends, for welcoming me to your country, and adopting me into your national family. Today is a very special day for me.
Blogging will be light for the rest of the day. I'll post something late this afternoon, if I get home in time; otherwise, look for more posts tomorrow morning.