People would always be very surprised when they found out I wasn’t an American citizen. I’ve lived in the States for years and I have no accent. There’s nothing about me that hints at not being American. But I’ve never been able to vote nor do jury duty, and that set me apart. That’s no longer the case! On February 27, 2013, I took the Oath of Allegiance and became an American citizen.
The Naturalization Oath Ceremony was a bitter sweet event for me. American citizenship is not something I have longed for for years and years. I became eligible for citizenship in 2001, but it wasn’t until eleven years later that I finally submitted my application.
Becoming a U.S. citizen meant automatically losing my Norwegian citizenship. That was the only thing that was holding me back. If I could have had dual citizenship, I would have jumped at the opportunity to become an American citizen 11 years ago. But I was very proud of my Norwegian citizenship and loved my red Norwegian passport, and I felt that losing them would be like losing some of what made me special.
I finally decided to take the plunge and submitted my application for practical reasons. It was the smart and sensible thing to do. I couldn’t be emotional about it anymore. There were some estate planning issues that could be dealt with in a more financially sound way if I weren’t a non-citizen spouse.
The application process was actually much quicker than I thought it would be. I submitted my application at the very end of July 2012, just before leaving on vacation. It was processed so quickly that I had already missed an appointment for fingerprinting before I came back three weeks later. It took much longer to reschedule that appointment; I wasn’t seen until November. Then I received the letter notifying me of my interview. At the interview in December, the officer went over my application with me and tested my knowledge of the English language and American civics. I passed with flying colors; I didn’t even have to answer all the questions. And then in January, I received a letter notifying me of my Naturalization Oath Ceremony. Unfortunately, I was out of the country for that date and had to request a new date. I was given February 27.
The whole application process only took seven months, and that was with two appointments that needed rescheduling. I can’t even imagine how quick the process would have been if I hadn’t needed to reschedule those appointments. Three to four months maybe? I think that is impressive government work for something as significant as applying for citizenship, especially in such an urban, immigrant rich city as Los Angeles.
The morning of my ceremony came upon us quickly. We hadn’t put much thought into it. My family in Norway knew I was applying for citizenship, but I had forgotten to tell them of the new date for my ceremony. My husband’s family here didn’t know about the upcoming ceremony either. No friends knew. We hadn’t been trying to hide it from anyone; it just wasn’t at the forefront of our minds.
Just the night before, we realized that we would need to take the kids with us to the ceremony because we wouldn’t be able to get them to school and us to the ceremony on time. It would be a nice civics lesson, we figured. How many people actually get to see a naturalization ceremony take place?
We had no idea what to expect and were quite surprised. All we knew was that it was at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. We had no idea how long it might last and we hadn’t even thought about how many people might be there. We did not know that we would be separated. Applicants entered one place, and guests entered another. We were most astonished by the great number of people present!
I checked in, received a packet of information, and was guided to a row. Small world incident here — right in front of me was a lady from the hair salon the day before! We had seen the same hairdresser and she had been alternating between the two of us. We hadn’t talked too much and neither knew the other was being naturalized the next day. But we suddenly felt like best friends in this sea of strangers! My new best friend was from the Philippines. I sat next to a lady from Brazil whose story was similar to mine, except she didn’t wait as long to apply for citizenship. On my other side was a man from Iran. Since we were all single and sitting around just waiting, we chatted and enjoyed each other’s company.
Finally, the ceremony started. We’d been waiting for about an hour. I’m sure the kids were absolutely stir-crazy and out of their minds. I was glad I wasn’t with them. We had brought nothing for them to occupy themselves with.
It turned out we were 2,250 people about to become citizens. I was surprised by how special and meaningful the ceremony was despite the attendance of so many people. There were probably about 5,000 people there including all the guests. We recited the Oath of Allegiance very early in the proceedings. Then the judge gave a very personable speech about the many different paths to citizenship among us, what it means to be an American, our rights and responsibilities, and he concluded with telling us this was a day to celebrate. He encouraged us to “pick up the phone and tell how wonderful today was”. He really was able to make us feel how special and rare this experience was.
In his speech, he shared some interesting statistics. The country with the greatest number of applicants was Mexico, which was no surprise. Next was the Philippines, followed by Iran, El Salvador, and in fifth was Guatemala. I’d be interested to hear what the bottom five countries were. It wouldn’t surprise me if Norway were one of them!
The judge’s speech was followed by a special video presentation. President Obama was proud to welcome us as new citizens to this country. He congratulated us and wished us well. It actually felt like he was speaking to us personally. It was quite moving. The ceremony concluded with the music video God Bless the USA featuring Lee Greenwood. It was a beautiful video — moving lyrics and magnificent images. Take a look (click the picture below), I bet you’ll tear up a bit, or maybe that was just me because I was feeling a little emotional.