I had the pleasure of watching as my friend and business partner, Nick Gustavsson, took his oath of allegiance to the United States on Friday at the US courthouse in Baltimore. It was both moving and frustrating at the same time.
For the most part the INS folks did a fine job working through the 49 applicants for citizenship: collecting green cards (which are actually pink, in most cases), making sure the information on the certificates was right and generally keeping things moving. Still, though, there was an awful lot of waiting: wait for the courtroom to open, wait in line to surrender your old papers and check the new, and wait for the judge to administer the oath. All in all, a near-perfect microcosm of the hurry-up-and-wait experience most of us have had with the US Government.
On the other hand, it could hardly have been a more perfect reminder that our country, for all our faults, attracts good people from around the world. Friday’s new citizens came from Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America; one young woman from the Philippines is serving in the US Navy, and brought several of her shipmates along for support and celebration. Some of the new citizens spoke nearly perfect American English, while others apparently had mastered only enough to pass the citizenship tests and interviews. Yet every one of them stood up in court and swore an oath to this country.
Native born Americans learn the Pledge of Allegiance as kids. We can all recite it by rote, but I would guess that few of us have pondered the words and the meaning as adults. The oath of allegiance that new citizens must be seen and heard to recite is considerably longer, stronger and more explicit in its obligations. Perhaps more of us should swear that oath ourselves; we’d be a stronger nation for it.