Submitted by Susanne Bacon
I was born German, and I am now an American citizen. It sounds easy. And, for me, it probably was in comparison with what other people have to undergo. But it is not as easy as some people think. No, you are not automatically American when you marry an American citizen. It’s what quite a few Americans wrongly assume. No, you are not automatically American when you marry a member of the US Forces. In fact, that makes the process even more complex. And, no, it’s not easy to have dual citizenship, since mother countries not always pull along with their expats.Marriage doesn’t automatically make an immigrant a citizen – it’s a long process even when it goes utterly smoothly.
What struck me most was the effect emigration has on the people immediately around you before you are about to leave. As much as they try to be happy for you, it is obvious that their pain sometimes outweighs compassion you who is on tenterhooks about the next step in the process. They don’t understand that the waiting might suddenly stop. Friends of mine were shocked when I suddenly received my appointment dates at the US embassy in Frankfurt for the final immigrant visa interview. It was a slap in the face that I didn’t make the rounds and visit with everybody before I left my mother country – because there simply wasn’t time. It was not that I hadn’t told them that this might happen. It was that they didn’t want to believe it would.
In fact, during the entire process of hospital checks, paperwork and email exchanges, the personal embassy appointment, the actual arrival at Immigration in SeaTac, and my first paperwork over here, I only ran into the kindest, most helpful American officials. They worked quickly and efficiently. And though it took me almost a year after filing my application for an immigration visa to join my husband, this was faster than the time frame I had been given in the beginning. I was lucky.
It was also clear to me from the start that I wanted to become a US citizen. I knew I’d have to have lived here for a certain period of time to be able to apply for citizenship. And at one point I had to deal with a very discouraging person who told me I’d fail at my first try to become a citizen anyhow. That lady wasn’t an immigration officer, by the way, but I might have caught her when she was just headed for her lunch break and her sandwich was more important than customer service.
For a while I contemplated dual citizenship. But watching German news and following documentaries about dual citizens in Germany failing loyalty my mother country convinced me that I had to take a stand. I fully appreciate all I have been receiving from this country and the wonderful people who have been crossing my path so far. I wanted to gain the rights and responsibilities of a full citizen here. I am not planning to live in Germany again. My loyalties are here. I won’t forget my roots, but I’m growing new ones here. And they are quite sturdy already.
Filing the paperwork was done quickly. And then I started learning for the immigration interview: history, sociology, politics – 100 questions and answers. And I waited. I’ll cut the story short. The authorities were working fast again, and I received my invitation to the pivotal interview in Tukwila quite quickly.
It was a cold December morning last year when I sat in the waiting area of the USCIS building’s second floor which seems to be reserved for citizenship procedures. The interview was over in under 30 minutes. My interviewer handed me the paperwork and invitation for the oath ceremony … the same afternoon! It was a rush of emotions I underwent during these last hours before the event, none of them sad. I felt a little dizzy with the speed at which the process was coming to its ending.
And then I was sitting in the auditorium of the USCIS building, along with 68 other people from 41 nations. All kinds of shades and clothing, all kinds of languages. I was sitting between a lady from Poland and a lady from Laos. We stood as we were called up, nation by nation. We spoke the oath, we sang the national anthem, now our national anthem, with fervor and tears in our eyes. The grandeur of that moment touched me deeply: To find that 69 people from 41 nations had suddenly become 69 people of one and the same nation … It would never make us a family, it would never weld us as in a melting pot, but it made us a community for that one hour of festive ceremony. What remains are a beautiful certificate – and the memory that immigration is a long, often painful process, but also a rewarding experience. That of finally having come home.