I had been told that the Naturalization Ceremony for new U.S. citizens would be touching, that I might tear up. I wish that had been truer. There were a few good moments, like when the Kenyan woman told the audience that she had been collecting money and books for ten years to fund a school in Nairobi. And just after the oath, when everyone applauded.
We sat up front, so we saw a bit more. Judge Dan Polster gave a practiced smile as he posed with over 80 new citizens for photos. As these walked up, their countries of origin were announced, and Polster asked the 20 students from Lincoln West High School seated in front where those nations were. None of them knew the locations of the Ukraine, Morocco, the Philippines, Vietnam or Peru, and only two could identify China and Russia. At first the Judge patiently gave geography lessons. Then he gave up. After sitting behind these kids for three hours, I was more pessimistic. The boys were armored in sports’ gear, whose logos stood in for consciousness and self expression. The girls coo-ed over the babies carried by new citizens, as if these were Shih Tzus, declaring that they were going to have one ASAP. Several brandished iPads and took pictures of themselves repeatedly.
The new citizens were slightly better. Despite a boldface sentence in the ceremony notice barring shorts, sandals and jeans, several Chinese girls arrived in sequined jeans that fit like tights and showed off 10 inches of muffin-like midriff. They would have been at home in the Lincoln West row, where this was also the norm. On the other hand, there was a French family in suits and ties and dresses, impeccable. Some new citizens had been living in the U.S.A. on green cards for 30 to 40 years, so this was more like a visit to the Social Security office for them. Others spoke little English and needed relatives to translate for them. For all, it was the end of a long legal road. In our case it lasted only 5 years, but we felt like we would scream if the Feds required one more set of fingerprints ($75 a set). We had produced six. Still, as Jefferson wrote, “ignorance is perferable to error.”