Last week I became an American citizen. It took me nearly 40 years to make the leap. I’d had a green card allowing me to live and work in the US since 1979 when I was made a hereditary resident alien on the coattails of my father. He was invited to join the club as a “cultural asset”.
What finally convinced me to file my papers in early 2016 was the possibility that Donald Trump might be the Republican nominee for president. My hope that I would be able to vote that year proved beyond optimistic. It took more than two years from the date I applied until I was called for the interview at which they ask you what the First Amendment is and which ocean lies off the east coast and then make you take an oath that you have never committed genocide or been a member of the Nazi party.
The delay at least gave me to opportunity to give disapproving English friends a different excuse for forswearing allegiance to the Crown. “Boris made me do it,” I would say, referring to the boorish Johnson, now Foreign Secretary, who helped con my now former country out of Europe where it firmly belonged.
I was sworn in on World Refugee Day, June 20, at a ceremony in Baltimore with 48 others, most of whom really were refugees. They were from various corners of Africa, Latin America and Asia (or as Trump calls them, “shitholes”), neither pampered heirs of cultural assets nor faux escapees from Brexit. The venue was a grand Presbyterian church that had be repurposed by the University of Maryland as an assembly hall. In the graveyard outside lay the bones of the poet and writer of horror stories Edgar Allen Poe.
We were shown a stirring film celebrating America’s proud history as refuge for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, with archival footage of same getting their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty before passing through Ellis Island to become part of the great American experiment. The high point, though, was the keynote by the university’s president, Jay Perlman, whose parents, born in Ukrainian shtetls, fled pogroms to find new lives and each other in Chicago.
Regrettably, the rules required that we also sit through a video welcome from Trump. He stumbled through his script with the enthusiasm of a ill-tempered man about to undergo root canal surgery. Decorum obliged us to applaud. There was a smatter of hands colliding limply. It was hard to forget that this was the guy who was talking about Latin American asylum seekers as an “infestation” and who had ordered infants to be dragged from their mothers’ breasts to deter further attempts at asylum-seeking and to blackmail Democrats into giving him his wall along the Mexican border.
With half an hour to kill before the ceremony got underway, I had a choice between letting the Twitter feed on my iPhone work me into a righteous but futile fury or reading the pocket Constitution contained in the packet they gave us when we checked in. I chose the Constitution, a warty document in some respects given its original concessions to slavery, but at its core still a work of collective genius, the DNA of what we were all here to become a part of. It put me in a good frame of mind for the oath.
It has only been 10 days, and in every one of them Trump and his claque has given me reason to rue my decision and I expect they will continue doing so until the day he is voted out of office. That day will come. Of that there can be no question. One of those votes will be mine. Which is why I have no regrets.