What is Proper Attire For Becoming An American

This one is just for fun. Really. Fun.

At the bottom of my Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony is the following statement:

Proper attire should be worn

So, what do you think is proper attire? What would you wear if you were becoming an American citizen? Blue jeans – nice ones that look tailored? Jeggings, yay or nay? My hanbok might be over-the-top, right?

And yes, I will post a photo after the ceremony.

Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – The Pause After the Hyphen

My husband asked me this question last night: “Do you think you’ll feel different after you become a citizen?”

I can’t remember when I didn’t consider myself a hyphenated American. Asian-American, Korean-American. Always something-American. Sure, there are those who will argue that it should be just “American” but I don’t believe that “American” should be a melting pot or salad bowl. There are just too many cultural gifts we are able to bring freely when we come to America. However, knowing that legally I wasn’t an American I would often hesitate when describing myself. The pause after the hyphen.

Because in a land where  “American” can be defined along lines of culture, race, ethnicity and legal status, a green card didn’t always feel legal enough. My entire life minus eight months wasn’t American enough. Flawless English and paying taxes wasn’t American enough. It was obvious enough that I was Korean or Asian, but the American part if often questioned even though no one can actually see my legal status. For some, my legal status still won’t be enough, but to be honest, I think I will feel more “secure” knowing that my vote will count, if for nothing else to cancel out someone else’s. Ah, democracy.

But I am looking forward to the ceremony and the finality of the process – far more than I anticipated. It has been fun, and quite unexpected, to be congratulated by friends and readers who have followed my journey through my blogging or private conversations. I have been encouraged by hyphenated and non-hyphenated Americans who embrace and exercise the privileges of citizenship while acknowledging that there is so much more that can be done to welcome the “other”. I am humbled by the welcome – genuine and heartfelt.

I’m also thinking a lot about my parents, who did not come to America with dreams and hopes for a life of excess and materialism. They hoped for better, and isn’t that what most parents want at some level for their children? Many helped them along the way – the building super who fixed up an old lamp no one but my parents would want (I still have the lamp); “Grandma” Marianne and her sister Jane who helped my parents practice their English; family and friends who were like family who were a few steps ahead of the process who helped make this foreign land more familiar.

So, now that I’ve rambled and released the extrovert…yes, I think I will feel different. I will not pause after the hyphen.

Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Testing

I am making a color copy of my green card because next week I will be giving it up at my swearing-in ceremony. Legally, I will no longer be a resident alien.

The test and interview was strange. The immigration officer was very kind, and he even laughed at my own silly attempts to ease my own nervousness by pretending to be funny. I answered the first six questions correctly so there was no opportunity to throw in a snarky answer.

Here are my six questions and answers:

  1. What is the national anthem? The Star Spangled Banner. You aren’t going to make me sing it, right?
  2. What is the “rule of law”? No one is above the law.
  3. What is the ocean on the West Coast of the United States? Really? The Pacific Ocean.
  4. Why does the flag have 13 stripes? Because they represent the original 13 colonies.
  5. What major event happened on September 11, 2001, in the United States. Terrorists attack the U.S.
  6. How old do citizens have to be to vote for President? 18.

I was asked a series of questions related to my original application and then came the English proficiency test. I had to read the sentence “What is the largest state?” and the write the sentence “Alaska is the largest state.” I had to swallow a chuckle as I briefly thought of inserting an accent just for fun or critiquing my penmanship, but I caught myself. This really isn’t funny. It’s funny for me because I take for granted my language skills and understanding and retention of basic civics just like any American-born American who never has to worry about having their language skills or loyalty questioned. It wasn’t funny for the older gentleman who left knowing his process would have to wait for another chance to prove proficiency.

I passed the test, and walked out of the interview area one step closer to becoming an American,The waiting room had filled up since I had left it. The DHS employee kept yelling instructions as if speaking louder would make her English more understandable to OTHER HOPEFUL IMMIGRANTS. Even though I found her volume annoying she always added “Good luck!” to the end of her instructions. In the background you could hear CNN’s coverage of the situation in Haiti – a woman had been rescued from the rubble one week after the earthquake and orphans had arrived safely in Philadelphia (“F” is finally with her family!).

There was a lot of hope in that room.

I spent some more time waiting, and then my name along with a list of others were mercilessly butchered. I felt sorry for that man whose job set him up for failure. We had all passed and received an invitation to our final step – Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony.

Next Tuesday I will finally say goodbye to my green card and be sworn in as an American.

As my dad later commented, “It took only 40 years.” Almost.

And for those who might wonder if a person like me can ever have fun, I did notice at the bottom of the form it read:

“Proper attire should be worn.”

🙂


I Pledge Allegiance

Next week Tuesday I take my Naturalization Test and hopefully pass. The process has gone a lot faster than expected, but it has raised up a few more moments of angst for me.  I don’t see it as a negative thing – this wrestling with identity and a sense of belonging. I do not want to take for granted the place and privilege I have; I do, however, want to understand it.

Question #52: What do we show loyalty to when we say the Pledge of Allegiance?

Acceptable answers: the United States or the flag.

I’m actually studying because I am afraid of failing this test. It’s only going to be 10 questions, and I need to answer 6 correctly. 60%.  Some of the questions are easy but will require some restraint on my part. I don’t think I will get any extra credit for snarkiness. For example: what is the economic system in the United States? Answer: capitalist or market economy. Snarky answer: broken.

But I am learning a few things while I wrestle through the emotional process of becoming a citizen of the country I grew up in. Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge, and it was published in 1892 for children to say on the anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of America. The quotes are mine.

Since 1892 there have been two changes to the pledge. The original pledge was to “my flag”, and Congress added the phrase “under God” in 1954.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I have always felt strange pledging allegiance to the flag. It’s not like I’m bowing before a god, but it certainly does feel different than say singing the national anthem. I’m not sure what it is…I’m still trying to put my finger on it.

I remember learning it in school, and thinking the phrase was “I pledge of allegiance”. I remember getting confused with hand placement – right hand over the heart for the pledge. Right hand held up with thumb and pinky down for the Girl Scout promise. Sorry. I was 5. What I don’t remember is how the teacher explained the pledge and why we say it.

Have any of you read James Clavell’s The Children’s Story? It’s a quick read – a tale of a teacher and her classroom and how education can become re-education. The teacher is trying to explain the pledge and the exchange between students and teacher is what I resonate with the most. Why do we say what we say if we don’t believe all of it or understand it fully?

Responding to Some Sojo Love

My post Asian≠White was cross-posted at Sojourners recently, and there have been some interesting comments that have popped up.

I’m really quite new to this blogging-for-an-audience-of-more-than-20 thing, so I’m learning on the fly about comments, author engagement and such. In the meantime, I decided to keep responses here on my site so as not to confuse myself.

So, in response to some of the comments on Sojourners:

Thank you all for reading. I’ve been reading Sojourners magazine off and on for a few years, ever since my then-supervisor decided he was going to rattle his entire staff team’s faith and understanding of the gospel. Thanks, Big Guns!

@ BlueDeacon – The separation between Asian and American is one of both culture and race/ethnicity. My parents see it from language and culture, but my father often reminds me that I am not American either.

@pcnot4me – You wonder if liberals ever just enjoy life. Hmmm. I guess you’d have to ask one. My liberal friends would say I’m too conservative. My conservative friends would say I’m too liberal. All of my friends would say I do enjoy life. I have a wonderful and complicated life. I have my moments, like when squirrels took over my attic or when my child was near death. Those moments are hard to enjoy.

@facebook-1363553490 – I wonder with you. I have no idea what the question about liberals just enjoying life and the thread that followed had anything to do with my original post. However, if any of the liberals reading the post feel like they should give more to charity, please contact me. I am still raising ministry support.

@NC77 – I do not know what % of AA are Christians. According to the US Census, about 5% of the national population is AA.

@Ballfour – You had several questions. I cut and pasted your comment so readers here will know what I’m talking about.

I have a few specific questions that come to mind from your article. I was hoping you could answer these:
1. What precisely is your “ideal” when it comes down to racial integration in churches?
2. Why would that make the church “better”? (Please don’t answer “because it would be multi-cultural” as that only begs the question as to why multi-culturalism in a church setting would be better).
3. Is there any reason you did not site the thousands of Korean-Christian and/or Chinese-Christian churches in the country that perform services in their native languages and reflective of their cultures? Do you expect them to adapt to hiring “whites” and adopting more “white culture”?

Honestly, I don’t have an “ideal” in mind. My point was to ask why is 20% the threshold and how does a number translate into cultural change. There is a great follow-up interview with David Van Biema, Time magazine’s religion writer and the author of the original magazine article I was reacting to, on UrbanFaith.com explaining a little more about the numbers and why Willow Creek’s numbers are getting the love and attention of Time magazine.

I have lots of feelings all over the map about multiculturalism and how that can and should look in various contexts. I am the product of the immigrant church where there was little to no multiethnicity (except for the occasional Moody Bible student who was hired to teach Sunday School. I do not expect all churches to pursue numeric multiethnicity but at some point in a church’s life I do believe issues of multiethnicty, race and a holistic understanding of justice needs to be addressed.

I did not write about those immigrant or 1st generation churches because that is not what the article is about. I was simply responding to the attention focused on megachurches. I do not expect those 1st generation churches to hire “white” or adopt more White majority culture because to some degree they already do having established themselves here in America. Anyone who has grown up in a 1st generation church will tell you that issues of culture and ethnicity come up because the children growing up in the those churches will face those issues – the classic generational culture gap, if you will.

But if a church publicly states its intentions to pursue multiethnicity, which is what Bill Hybels and WC has done, I do expect them to address not just attendance and membership numbers. I would argue that the culture has to shift, as sociologists would agree, and that the leadership has to shift. It isn’t enough to say that the congregation looks different if we agree that isn’t what we are talking about when we say “multicultural” or “multiethnicity”. Are there songs sung in different styles and languages and the gifts of those cultures and nuances of language addressed? Is communion always wafers and grape juice when rice cakes and tea could also help connect and express the connection between host and blood? Is it always a drum set or can there be a djembe or janggu? Can liturgical dance also draw from 1st Nations’ and folk dancing? We learn so much from one another, and that is why diversity is better. No one culture paints the whole complete picture of God’s kingdom and I am blessed through the diversity of God’s kingdom and creation.

Am I An Asian American Sell-out?

Elder J has written a provocative post taking a look at the cost of assimilation. As one commenter put it: “The Deadly Vipers are off the shelves; Ninja Assassin is a box office hit! Folks of Asian America, this is precisely where we live: damned if we do, damned if don’t.”

Ninja Assassin isn’t a movie that makes my must-see list, but it sells. What it sells I’m not exactly sure. I can appreciate the cinematic genre, but let’s face it. Kung Fu movies in America play out differently in the culture than they do in, say, Asia Why? Because I live in America, and it gets old having boys or “men” come up to me with a karate-chop greeting.

I’m all for more Asian/Asian Americans represented in the entertainment world, but I’m also not so comfortable with what the average person takes away from a movie like that. Is it really “just” entertainment? We lament that there are so few Asian/Asian American faces on the silver screen that when they do appear we (sort of) feel obligated to show support and use box office totals to communicate power and influence. We have to at minimum buy into the system or at least understand how to manipulate it in order to influence it, right?

Elder J defines a sell-out as “one who bargains away his own identity or people in exchange for acceptance and benefits afforded by those in power.”  He goes on to challenge us to consider this: “Asian Americans cannot continue to sell out their cultural inheritance and then expect others to honor it.”

I’ve been sitting on this for awhile now. The difficulty is that as Asian Americans we are still understanding and trying to identify our cultural inheritance. Our ancestors who immigrated to the States had a much clearer understanding of their Asian roots and cultures, and so much of that continues to get lost in translation. When I share mandoo (Korean potstickers) at a church potluck or send it with my kids for lunch my intent is to share my culture but how then do I keep that from becoming at some level tokenism or perpetuating a stereotype? How Asian do I have to be to be AA or how American do I have to be to be AA – and all of that in the balance of being genuinely AA and not selling out. It feels a bit silly to even use food as an example, but on a very basic level I think I’m still figuring what it means to be Asian American.

American-born Americans: Are You Smarter than a Naturalized Citizen?

I’m supposed to be finishing up an article on new moms on staff, but I got another notice in the mail that resembles a sweepstakes notification.

My naturalization interview is in January so I’ll be spending my winter break prepping for two speaking gigs and studying for my civics test. I’m not going to study for the reading and writing portion of the test where I will need to read one out of three sentences and write one of three sentences to prove language proficiency. Methinks I can pass the English proficiency test despite occasionally being asked, “Where did you learn your English?” 😉

There are 100 civics questions on the naturalization test, and I will be asked up to 10 of those questions. I must answer 6 out of those 10 correctly. For once in my life it’s OK to shoot for 60% but something inside of my cringes. Surely I can get an A+. Right?

American-born Americans do not need to study any of these questions before they are American. I am not at all taking for granted the freedoms afforded me as a legal resident alien, and I am not at all taking for granted the freedom to apply for citizenship. I am not all that excited about having to take a test. And I feel a bit uneasy about pledging my allegiance to a flag…I’ll write about that one later…

Back to the test. For all of my American-born readers, do you think you could pass the test without studying since you are already “American”?

Sample questions:

  1. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
  2. What is the “rule of law”?
  3. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
  4. The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.
  5. Who was President during World War I?
  6. What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?
  7. There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.
  8. What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen?
  9. Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?
  10. How many justices currently sit on the Supreme Court?

No cheating. How did you do?

I don’t mind studying for this test. I believe it’s important to know and understand one’s history, and American history is a part of my story. After all of this I will hopefully have a piece of paper that makes it legal in a new way even if I’m certain I will still get asked, “Where are you really from?”.

Do You Watch What You Eat?

My two oldest children have forsaken their Korean roots by letting me know of their disdain for kimchee in all its forms. For those of you who are not familiar with the staple of Korean cuisine, kimchee is a fermented, spicy cabbage side dish. It has a strong smell and unique taste, which varies depending on what your family recipe adds to the kimchee, how long it has fermented, and what type of cabbage or radish that is used.

I love kimchee. When my kimchee has fermented a wee bit too long, I chop it up and throw it in a skillet with some cold rice and spam and make kimchee fried rice for a late-night snack. Or I’ll throw it in a pot with some short ribs and tofu and make a stew to eat with rice.

But because of the smell of kimchee, and the smell of several other Korean staples, I watch what I eat and when I eat it. Yesterday I was so excited to find out that Peter was going to make it home in time to pick up the boys from school because I could stay at home for the rest of the day…which meant I could eat some Korean food for lunch and not worry about the smell that seems to stick to my taste buds and even my hair.

It’s a little silly, I suppose, but I am aware that we relate to others through all of our senses. I remember one of my piano teachers used to sit during our lessons with her plate of bleu cheese. I had never seen or smelled anything like it before, and it would be at least two decades before I could bring myself to eating blue cheese. The smell always reminded me of that piano teacher with little fondness.

Childhood memories also included being teased for being a chink and being followed by boys taunting and threatening to send me back to where I came from. Do I carry those memories into adulthood? Absolutely. Because as an adult I remember walking along the street having a car load or truck load of “Americans” slow down so I could hear them scream similar things. Being proud of who I am and fitting in has always been a tricky dance.

So when friends came over I would die inside when my mother would offer some food. I would think, “Please, don’t open the fridge. It stinks.” My kids don’t have to worry about that. My father-in-law gave me his kimchee refrigerator, which in some high-identity/low-assimilation homes would be used to actually ferment kimchee. In our home, and in other high-identity/high-assimilation homes is used to store the stinky foods, including kimchee. I used to keep juice boxes in their too until I realized the waxy paper juice boxes were absorbing the smell.

My kids are all over the map when it comes to food. There are a number of Korean dishes they frown upon, but all three of them have at one time or another taken lunches to school reflecting their Asian/Korean roots. I would often hesitate when they asked if they could bring the leftover seaweed or oxtail soup to school, but I try desperately to not make my issues theirs. Our thermoses get good use, especially in the winter when the novelty of school lunches and the bitter cold of the winter settle in because “gook bap” beats a hot dog any day.

But their courage is not always mine as I think about digging into a bowl of spicy tofu seafood soup two hours before the school bell rings. Chicken teriyaki is safe. Even California rolls or a plate of pad thai is “safe”. But kimchee? In a world where there are people who die because they do not have enough to eat, it seems rather silly to be worried about how I smell after a meal but I do…maybe more often than I should?

Gifts From the First Generation

The hope was to have this post ready for Choo-Suk (the Korean Harvest Moon celebration, often described to immigrant children as the Korean Thanksgiving), and then I pushed my self-imposed deadline to Thanksgiving. I let several things get in the way.

Anyway, I grew up in the Korean immigrant church. The family story is that one of the first places we visited upon our arrival to Chicago was to Sunday service at First Korean United Methodist Church. Through the years our family would change church affiliations, but we would always be at a Korean church. They were not perfect churches. And those churches had their share of broken people and broken systems. But reading through Dr. Soong-Chan Rah‘s book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity gave me reason to pause. Rah uses the Korean immigrant church as his example for Chapter 8 – Holistic Evangelism, and it made me think back to my childhood and youth.

As the commenting raged on on other blogs about how Asian Americans need to get over their race issues and put Jesus first, I found myself thanking God for the gifts of grace, the power of faith, and the complicated and amazing ways in which my faith have shaped the ways I view ethnicity, race and gender and vice versa. Weren’t we all “fearfully and wonderfully made”? Won’t “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” be in God’s presence and glory?

So I go back to the memories of church – the sights, the sounds, the smells, and I am filled with gratitude for the gifts from the first generation.

I thank God for the experience of the first generation Korean church and:

  1.  the church’s additional role a cultural school for me. I learned about Jesus and I learned about being Korean. I learned to read and write (though only mastered both to a 2nd grade level) the only spoken language knew until I was in kindergarten. That basic foundation of the language connects me to a rich history and culture that I grew up experiencing through all of my senses. I learned Korean folk dancing that allowed my body to tell stories that I could not speak.
  2. the gift of liturgy and hymns. They were sung and spoken in Korean. It’s now my lost language, almost like a faint memory that still speaks to places in my soul and communicate nuances I can still only grasp in Korean.
  3. the community the immigrant church provided for my parents and their peers who displaced themselves for the promise of a better life.
  4. the community the immigrant church provided for me and my peers who had no choice in our displacement but needed a group of friends (and frienemies) who could relate to the bicultural experiences our parents could not help us navigate.
  5. the gift of faith because it was at church my parents’ faith was nurtured in their native tongue and where local Bible school students interned and shared the gospel with me in English. I still have the Bible given to me by my Sunday School teacher, John Bezel, and remember his willingess to learn about the Korean American experience as he shared about Jesus.

Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Step 2 & of Course More Deadly Viper

There is another conference call set up for 9 a.m. CST Friday, November 6, with Zondervan execs. Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah and I will represent.

What does Zondervan need to know/understand? What are the cultural and spiritual issues that need to be addressed in a profit-driven system?

Please discuss.

And previously scheduled was my trip to get fingerprinted. I got my study guide for the citizenship exam. I learned that I only have to study the questions with an “*” because I’ve been a legal alien resident for more than 20 years.

And I have to take an English test.

Stop laughing.