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?

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?”.

Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – I’m In the System

By Thursday I needed a break from the frantic and frenetic pace of being a present mom and wife, preparing for our region’s Black Campus Ministries student conference, and being the in the middle (but sometimes invisibly) of the Deadly Viper situation. I found myself relieved that I had to go my fingerprints taken for my citizenship application – some time to decompress in the car and then in the waiting area. Clearly you can understand that my state of mind was compromised.

I walked in and realized I could not run away. The male desk clerk looked at me (sisters, you know what kind of look I’m talking about, right?) that made me grateful I was holding my Bible in front of my chest. I took the form to fill out and sat down, only to find that FOX news was on the tv – closed-captioning running and the volume up. 

I couldn’t imagine anything louder than the tv, but then a conversation between a woman asking about the fingerprinting process and an INS officer took over the room. She was asking whether or not the office provided fingerprinting for a fee because her initial application was denied and she was hoping to move the process along by getting the biometrics done before a new application was completed. She spoke with an accent, and with every sentence I swear the INS officer raised his voice.

She would ask a question or make a comment, AND THEN HE WOULD SPEAK SLOWER AND LOUDER THAN HE DID A MOMENT AGO PERHAPS TO MAKE IT CLEARER. Apparently speaking louder and slower helps us non-Americans understand you better? I thought about saying something, but an internal filter kicked in and while I was having a conversation with myself in the silence of my head about speaking up and helping her and this LOUD INS OFFICER COMMUNICATE she left and I was up for fingerprinting.

I was imagining ink pads and paper, but clearly the US government has better technology – all computerized with no ink. It was a pretty cool thing to watch, but then I had this strange feeling. All of my personal information, including every ridge of my fingerprints was in the system. I am still not a US citizen, but the government knows about me.

It felt vulnerable in an uncomfortable, unwelcomed way as information about me was taken in an uninviting, uncomfortable way. I looked at the table where I had put down my purse and Bible. The government knows about me, but I had to remind myself that only God really knows me. He knew the ridges in my fingerprints even before I knew I wanted to become a US citizen. It comforted me in way I can’t explain in a moment where I felt completely uncomfortable in a way I can’t explain.

The government knows. But to God, creator of the universe, I am known.

And a random thought on efficiency – there ought to be a way to simultaneously apply for citizenship and a passport so that once citizenship is granted a passport is issued. Call me crazy.

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.

Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Biometrics

I’ve received notice that the government is ready for me to be fingerprinted. The FBI will cross-check my prints against its databases while my paper documents are verified.

Fingerprinting has nothing but negative connotations for me. If you’re being fingerprinted, you did something bad, someone thinks you did something bad, or your parents are afraid you’ll be abducted so they have your fingerprints, recent photograph and physical description on hand for the police.

Some of you may be wondering if I’m being a wee bit over the top with my thoughts in this process. I hope not. I hope that thinking through what citizenship means is appropriate, needed and welcomed by those born into the privilege…because the fact of the matter is that even after I’m (hopefully) naturalized I’ll still be asked, “Where are you from?” 😉


Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Processing

My application is officially “in process”. 

Yesterday the sort of official-looking letter arrived. Honestly it looks a little bit like those sweepstakes notices that urge you to call now to confirm your personal information to see which of the amazing prizes you have won: $100,000 in cash, a new car or a clock radio.

But I am grateful for this letter because it is making me think about citizenship in the earthly sense and the implications of living that out knowing my heavenly citizenship calls me to think and live sometimes differently than what current culture would dictate as acceptable or understandable.

Now that I know the government has cashed the check, I know that I’ve been assigned an application number. Someone, I presume, will be making sure I am who the documents say I am, and then I will be scheduled to appear for an interview.

Peter asked me, “What do you want to do when you get your citizenship?”

I made some snarky comment about wearing an American flag on my lapel, but then I realized he was being serious. I’m not sure if I’ll want to do anything special, but that could change.

As letter stated: I’m in process.

Does God Care I’m an Asian American Woman?

So my posts about becoming an American has been generating some great on- and off-line conversations and comments about citizenship, identity, etc.

My job involves engaging people into the conversation about multiethnicity/multiculturalism & Christianity. The conversations are always rich and often difficult. A question that “AS” brought up in her comment is one that often bubbles up to the surface:

What does it mean to say that “God doesn’t care if you’re black or white, male or female, rich or poor?”

What do you think? Does God care? Does it matter to God?

Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Say Cheese

The application has been filled out in black ink and capital letters.

Now, it’s time to say, “Cheese” or in my family it would be time to say, “Kimchee”.

The catch? Lots of details. Glasses on? Glasses off? Well, it depends. If you’re reading the USCIS website – off. If you’re reading the USDS website – on. Glossy. Color. Two 2×2 copies. Head has to be between 1″-1 3/8″. White to off-white background. “A” number and name printed lightly on the back. Neutral expression (I am rarely neutral), which means I actually don’t get to say, “Cheese” or “kimchee”.

I think I look angry…or like I’m posing for a traditional old school East Asian family photo. (Raise your hand if someone in your parents’ yearbook/wedding photos had this same expression on their face!) Peter thinks I just look tired. Bethany thinks I look weird.

Taking the completed application to the post office this afternoon felt weird. It’s difficult to explain. Unlike immigrating to the US and being born a Korean female, applying for citizenship was a choice. And for someone who is still asked, “Where are you from?” or “Where did you learn English?” choosing to become an American when I know very well that there are places where I will never be seen as American is a choice to engage.

Please don’t get me wrong. My faith, not my country or culture or gender, come first. But I do not believe any one of those parts of  my life is separate from the others, and neither can one single-handedly define or direct me. Does that make sense? Agree? Disagree?

Regardless, I think we can all agree this is not the most flattering photo I’ll ever have of myself. But in a funny way I think it captures well some of the many choices I’m blessed to have.

Sometimes we do get to have our cheese (with some lactaid) and kimchee (but not necessarily together but not unheard of) and eat it too.

…fortunately we still have a white wall in our home for this do-it-yourself passport-style photo…