Welcome to America

My daughter Lejla became a citizen Monday.  The ceremony was at the federal courthouse downtown; she joined 29 other immigrants from 17 nations in taking the oath of citizenship.

(Lejla was born in Switzerland, the child of Bosnian and Croat refugees.  Since Switzerland neither allows refugees to stay very long nor grants citizenship to people born on its soil unless they also live there 12 years, she was a citizen of no nation until Monday.  This cost me a fair amount of sleep through the years, since getting caught in teen high jinks might have meant her friends would be picked up at the police station while she might have gone into the limbo of a Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail for years.  It happens.)

Huge backup at the security checkpoint as the prospective Americans and their families crowded the lobby.  Upstairs the big courtroom was packed, small children playing peek-a-boo with strangers, smartphones, iPads and even a few actual cameras clicking away.

The citizens-to-be all had to check in with a clerk and present their paperwork before the ceremony could begin.  One thing the clerk clearly did not check was the pronunciation of their names.

The ceremony began with four superannuated American Legionnaires marching with the colors – the American flag, the Vermont flag and two rifles.  Most of the immigrants looked bewildered by the display but since the Legion has historically not been, um… particularly welcoming… of immigrants, I tried to look on the bright side.

I’ve noted in this space my disappointment that educators in Burlington schools cannot seem to handle foreign names.  That’s bad enough but the clerks at the citizenship ceremony?  As the role of new citizens was read, it was a verbal stumble proceeding from Brazil through Morocco, Congo, Somalia (five new Americans from there, the biggest group Monday), Egypt, Iraq, Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia, Russia, Ukraine and Switzerland.

When we adopted Lejla, she elected to keep her birth name and the clerk, to her credit, pronounced Lejla (LEY-la, not LEDGE-la) right, but mangled her surname so badly it came out “Spinach.”  (As Lejla doesn’t ask to be written about, I’ll refrain from putting her surname in here, but I can assure you it’s definitely not pronounced “Spinach.”)  The only name that came through unscathed belonged to a chap from the UK, John MacKenzie.

Then the oath itself.  It begins: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity….”  Quick, what does “abjure” mean?  If you carefully parse that sentence, you won’t need to Google it to know it means “renounce,” since the entire oath is an total and complete festival of redundancy.

Sure, you have to demonstrate some command of English to become a US citizen, but I doubt even Mr. MacKenzie could have defined “abjure” on the spot.  Should we really be asking folks, as their first act as citizens to swear to something they’re unlikely to understand?

A recitation of the pledge of allegiance (and fidelity), the old legionnaires trooped out and it was suddenly over.  More hugs and photos.  The new citizens received packets of materials with a) the cheapest American flag lapel pin I’ve ever see, compliments of the Daughters of the American Revolution (another organization not known for welcoming immigrants), b) information on registering to vote (compliments of the League of Women Voters) and c) passport applications (in case the new citizens want to leave and come back).

Welcome (officially) to America, Lejla.  I still disapprove of teen high jinks.

© Mark Floegel, 2014

One Comment

  1. Brian and Pat Belden
    Posted 4/9/2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t kept up with your blog in a while, but something stirred me to check it out tonight. Glad I did and very happy to read about Lejia and her day! May we add our “welcome to America”, Lejia…….

    Mark, Why do you think so many still want to immigrate to the U.S.A?

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