Everyday Dismantling #5 – Voting

Six years ago I became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I left my green card, which wasn’t green, on a stack of other “identification of legal status” cards and walked in to my swearing-in ceremony.

I immigrated to the U.S. as an eight-month-old baby, so when people tell me I should go back to where I came from if I don’t like it here I like to point out that I actually didn’t choose to come here any more than “they” did AND that their response to my dissatisfaction is just plain ignorant.

But that type of ignorant response along with years of reminders from Dad, especially after 9/11, got me thinking: I actually had the privilege and “right” to pursue naturalization and then to vote as well as serve on a jury.

Now, I haven’t had my name come up for jury duty, and I know it’s not all “Making of a Murderer” or the OJ trial. (How do I really know? I was a journalist before I was a campus minister/mom/blogger/Instagrammer, and I covered a murder-for-hire trial that may be made into a bad tv movie, which I refused to be a part of much to the dismay of my family.) I often see tweets and FB posts from folks about dreading jury selection, asking for advice on how to be relieved of jury duty, etc. And until this year have stood at arms-length in the political poop-slinging also known as the presidential primaries.

But here’s the thing. I can write, speak, advocate, make space, elevate, etc. all the things in my piece of the platform, but there is this other space where things get changed, voted into law, funded, etc. and many of you, dear readers, can do that without having to go through the fingerprinting, money-shelling, time-off-of-work-thing I did to follow my path to citizenship.

You were born into the privilege. You were born into citizenship with the birthright of voting in an imperfect system, yes, that has the potential to shape and change policies, vote candidates and politicians in or out, show support in a non-binding referendum, etc.

You were born into the system with the privilege to have a teeny, tiny say in how to build or dismantle the system, and it didn’t cost you a second or a penny. Giving up that privilege, that power, doesn’t give anyone else your vote.

I grew up in the Church where we can incorrectly talk a lot about our citizenship in heaven as if being here on earth was a waste of time. Salvation and following Jesus was all about making sure I got to heaven and feel really bad for friends and family who were headed to hell. I accepted Jesus into my heart at every retreat and revival meeting just in case. But, now that I’m finally in my sometimes-wiser, slightly more theologically grounded 40s, it’s not about hedging my bets for a seat in heaven. My take follows Jesus’ prayer: May Your Kingdom, Your will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven. It’s not about waiting until death and resurrection. It is living embodied, not souls floating around like sunbeams and snowflakes, and that also means what we do to our bodies, with our bodies, through our bodies are part of bringing God’s kingdom come on earth. Not just on Sundays. Especially not just on Sundays.

So, back to the voting thing. There are too many people who cannot vote because the paths are not available, have been taken away, or have been shut down. I’m not here to argue whether that’s all right or wrong, but if you’re a long-time reader, you probably can figure out what I think. 😉 I’m writing to ask you, dear readers, to consider how your vote can either support the systems that need supporting or dismantle the systems that need to be done with. Your one vote may not count, but what if it is the small step to helping you think about what it means to live into the fullness of your values every single day? How do you decide what voting “pro-life” look like and how will you do it at the ballot and in your daily life? How do you decide what voting “like a Christian” looks like and how will you live into that when you don’t agree with the laws or the politicians?

Maybe I am just too new of a citizen and, if it’s even possible, not jaded enough by political pundits and the media. So be it. I don’t believe God will be angry or disappointed if you don’t vote. I do believe it is a strange privilege I have, and I don’t want to treat it like it’s become an entitlement.


Reasonable Suspicion

My college girlfriends and I had considered Arizona as a spot for a 40th bday bash, but I’m not sure we’d pass muster. We’ve all been questioned before. We’ve all been told one way or another that for some reason that surely has absolutely nothing to do with race, color or national origin that we just don’t look like we belong.

It usually goes something like this…

Someone trying to make conversation with me: “Where are you from?”

Me: Oh, I’m from (fill in the blank  – Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Portland, Phoenix, Flagstaff).

Same Someone: No, I mean where are you REALLY from.

Me: Huh?

Still that Same Someone: You know. Where are you FROM?

The only place I knew as “home”, as the place I was from, was Chicago. Why wasn’t that answer enough? Because I don’t look or sound like a Chicagoan? Just ask me to say “hot dog” and “beer”. I’ve got Chicaaahgo.

Being told in so many words in so many ways that you don’t belong, that you couldn’t possibly be from where you say you are actually from can make you reasonably suspicious of people who ask the “where are you from” question.

But now the “where are you from” question takes on an entirely different level of fear, intimidation and distinction. Will all American citizens living in Arizona or traveling through/in Arizona, as a precautionary measure and to be in full compliance will the law, carry proof of their immigration status? You’re not an immigrant so you don’t need to carry identification? Prove it.

One of the provisions in the Arizona law “requires police officers to ‘make a reasonable attempt’ to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.”

Help me understand what are the other things to consider in implementation? If the person speaks with an accent or can’t speak proper English, is that enough to raise reasonable suspicion? Jeez, I know plenty of folks who had better laminate their birth certificates or carry their passports if they are going to be in Arizona. How can you tell national origin by looking at someone, listening to someone?

I’ve been following the reactions to the new law, and the responses that confuse me the most are the ones that argue the only ones who are worried or angry or concerned about this law are probably illegal and already undocumented. Obviously, citizens who are here legally should have nothing to be worried about. But doesn’t the law apply to everyone? Anyone’s immigration status could come into question, but it’s not really “anyone” we’re talking about here. Not just “anyone” is going to have their immigration status questioned because not just “anyone” gets asked “where are you from?” more than once. Not just “anyone” gets pulled over in certain neighborhoods and communities. Not just “anyone” gets followed in certain stores. Not just “anyone”. Just those who raise reasonable suspicion. Right?

I am trying to make a reasonable attempt at understanding how this law will be implemented but I’m reasonably suspicious.

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.”


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.

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…