Do all American citizens receive their copy of The Citizen’s Almanac? In their mail? Perhaps you receive it along with your birth certificate? I received mine, along with other fascinating reading materials during the ceremony that marked my becoming a citizen of this country last month. If you don’t have yours because you were born here, I suggest that you hurry to order your copy.
At the ceremony there were more than one hundred and fifty persons who were ready to “entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of which [they, we] heretofore [had] been a subject or a citizen.” Coming from 47 countries, all my new fellow co-citizens, those who were born to Americanhood the same day I was born, speak at least as many languages. Our proficiency in our new language is variable, and we are ready to willingly enrich it with neologisms and grammatical creativity for the next years of our lives –partially renouncing and not completely abjuring all allegiance to our mother tongues, extremely powerful princes and potentates.
All of us have been told that this is going to be a solemn ceremony. It must be. We will be transformed in front of the symbol of the country that includes the thirteen colonies in its stripes and the states in this starry night populated with perfectly ordered stars in number of fifty. The letter that summoned us here to this event explains that we should not wear shorts, jeans or flip-flops. For this reason, solemn attires from many different countries and cultures are being worn; among them, of course, other more neutral –that is Western-, meaningless clothes, including mine. One man alone is wearing shorts, but this is only because this is his professional uniform, and he wears it proudly, with emotion, even though it involves showing part of his lower legs.
While I wait for the ceremony, I peek at my Almanac. There, I see a list of twenty short biographies of foreign-born American citizens (like all of us) concluding the paperback. Politicians, artists, scientists. Among them, there are only three women. One of them is a Catholic saint, the second one is a Hollywood actress, and the third one is a popular singer prominent in Batista’s Cuba who left the island right after the victory of the revolution. No congresswomen, no Nobel laureates, no scientists, no writers, no diplomats, no judges among the women.
An “all raise” resounds in the room. The judge enters. We take the oath. The judge addresses us. Perhaps we took the oath after the address, I don’t remember because I was too emotional –and I was not the only one trying to restrain my tears, believe me. The judge’s discourse is in fact very beautiful, and my efforts to contain my weeping then and there are really fruitless. She interestingly highlights that discrimination because of gender, skin color, religion, and sexual orientation (among others, but she mentions those particular cases) are not allowed in this country. Those who discriminate for one or other of those reasons, she adds, are not good American citizens.
Of course, I know all that. I am a straight, European, white male, raised a Catholic, and when I speak English with my thick accent, people think it’s cute –the same people who think that Mexican accent is really not that nice, either in English or in Spanish (they are wrong, by the way). In other words, I am privileged even when I am different. I don’t know anything about discrimination, nothing I may have suffered in my own flesh, and the microaggressions I may have received are more like imperceptible nanoagressions.
The judge, however, knows that most people in the room have experienced discrimination. Not only in their countries of origin, but also in this new one where they decided to move with less than nothing, refugee cards, and with a bagful of hope. And because she knows, and because she tells us that we are about to have exactly the same rights as any other American citizen –including the right to be unlawfully discriminated–, she declares that she is saddened to know that all this may have happened. Her sadness –her sincere sadness—is a relief. The fact that this sadness comes with a certificate of naturalization is a relief.
Perhaps a relief that somehow softens the moment happened only a few minutes ago, in which we had to surrender our green cards and passports –undressed from our old juridical person, in order to become, before everybody, in front of the people, a new person with entirely new legal clothes.
Now we are naked. We know our certificate is waiting for us, but we cannot still reach it, it’s there, I see them, in a bag, on the floor. Certificates with our names, sometimes our new names, because we have the right to change our names as well. The judge is going to invest us with new expectations –great expectations, by all accounts. The facts, because all we need is facts, from the Almanac are there to teach us. We handed over our old documents and the new ones have not been handed over to us as yet, so we are like a tabula rasa, anything can be written on us, we are going to be born again.
All those new Americans that are born week after week –because it is true that no other country in the world is so welcoming for new citizens—have grown to become scientists, or leaders in their communities. Have they? Really? Is it that what’s expected of us? Is it that what’s expected of all of you, oh my dear fellow co-citizens, foreign-born and not? To be leaders? All? A whole country composed of nothing but leaders? Perhaps one in which women are saints, actresses, or popular singers, while men are classical composers, film directors, Nobel laureates, or politicians. Or judges.
The dream is there for us to dream.
Great expectations indeed.Why leaders? Perhaps a different, and perfectly possible dream would be to not have leaders, to dream solidarity and collaboration, to dream less inequality, to dream better education, instead of formidably competitive and expensive education. Maybe we could produce an American Almanac in which we can explain our government that instead of leadership, we would like to see a better distribution of wealth.
May I be a citizen? A regular one? A good one, of course. Not a hero. Not a leader. Just a citizen. I pay my taxes. I vote. I fulfill my jury duties. Things like that. I peacefully stroll my neighborhood streets, up and down. Only a regular citizen, one of those who will never be in the Almanac. Just that.