"You Are Welcome Here"
Ten months of fingerprints, an interview, an examination, close evaluations of my driving record and trips outside of the U.S. later, I have made it to my Naturalization Ceremony. Almost one year ago I applied to become a citizen of the United States of America, mailing in my N-400 application while close friends were mailing in their ballots in high hopes of Clinton taking the win of the 2016 presidential election. The day is finally here. The date is Tuesday, September 26th, and I walk into the Paramount Theatre of Oakland, CA to join over 1300 other new citizens for our Citizenship Ceremony. Today I will become a citizen of the United States. As soon as I walk into the room I notice that I am being advertised to. I am handed a miniature American Flag and sat down in between a woman from Cuba and a man from Mexico. All around us are flags and very put-together ushers. In front of me: a large screen showing various scenes of American National Parks, random patriotic phrases, and pictures of the Founding Fathers played on a loop. Cheesy music such as “This Land is My Land” playing in the background. The program begins with information on how to vote, updating social security cards, and passport applications. The officials in front of us are all smiles, happily giving us information in the same manner as a giddy teenage girl would when inviting someone to a party. Lastly comes the Oath of Allegiance, or official swearing into the country as loyal citizens. We listen to the old white American man say the first line and we chant in repetition after it. Over and over, all 1300 of us echo this man who has the magical power to make us an official part of this nation-state.
The entire process is a cleverly woven together piece of patriotic propaganda. Every moment is made for the new citizens to feel special, welcome, and more entitled and powerful than when they came in as lowly non-citizens. Every moment, that is, until the old white man who swore us in announced that we will now watch a video message from the President of the United States welcoming us to the country. As soon as Trump’s face appeared on the giant screen the entirety of the 1300 new citizens in the room began to moan and groan. We openly “BOO!!” our president while he vaguely, insincerely, and artificially drones on about how “You are welcome here”, as if we were not legally residing in the country to begin with. The hated video is over, and the new citizens exit the auditorium, freshly American and freshly comfortable voicing our political opinions.
The question I have is: Why does this national government feel as if it has such a need to advertise being an American to people who have already applied to be citizens of the United States? Why is the U.S. so concerned with us renouncing our past lives to join this one in a new country? The funny thing is that the entire program was doing a great job of making me proud to be an American and less of a German until I saw my president’s face on the screen. I felt euphoric and accepted until I saw the man who made me less proud to be an American. The feel of a room can change so incredibly quickly, from one of unity and welcome to despising and unsure within seconds. Either way, we were proud to become an official part of this mixed-up country.