I was at the Convention Center this past Thursday when my Guatemalan friend Reyna Gonzalez, who works to keep my house--and a lot of others--presentable, became a citizen after 22 years in the US. Two other women from the group I call "Reyna's ladies," Roma Maffia and Lauren Malkasian, came to support her. It was a big enough day for her children, Maverick, 18, and Ashley, 12, and her husband Manuel, to miss school and work so they could be there with her. She had studied hard for the test, with her kids as her tutors. She and Manuel both passed the test but today belonged to Reyna.
There were 3,000 new citizens from over 100 countries who raised their right hands and were sworn with her. (A second ceremony a few hours later would double that number). They exuberantly said the Pledge of Allegiance and watched a video speech by President Obama. Practice makes perfect: the INS has the ceremony down--thousands of documents were handed out seamlessly.
The new citizens were permitted to register to vote and apply for their passports, then they moved to long tables where about 50 people were seated, handing out the certificates of naturalization. Then the new citizens exited into the sun-drenched entry hall of the Convention Center, filled with a sea of friends and family waiting to congratulate and hug them. The music video by Lee Greenwood was shown, with the singing of "God Bless the USA" that seems hokey to a jaded American like me, but probably looks a lot different to someone who's made an emotional and often harrowing journey to a foreign land and worked hard for the right to call herself an American.
According to Reyna, taking the test was scary. After answering 100 questions about the U.S. and its government, there is an interview with an immigration officer, one on one. You must be able to read and write English, and understand and speak it as well. As Reyna's husband Manuel described it: "For sure, we are shaking, but face to face you have to be strong. Afterwards, you can cry."
Watching proudly as Reyna took her oath, and knowing that his turn would come soon, that is exactly what he did.
Photos by Iris Schneider