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?”.

WWJW or What Would Jesus Wear (if Jesus Was a Tween/Teen Girl)?

A friend’s post about fashion and leggings got me thinking about how my daughter and I are navigating the scary yet vaguely familiar world of teenage fashion.

Life was a lot easier when I could go to just about any store and buy a few things for Bethany, stick them in the closet, and pull them out for her to wear with little to no objections. But I don’t know if it was as fun. Life now means going to the mall or Goodwill together and trying to out-do each other’s best buys.

But starting around age 9 finding “appropriate” clothing and avoiding exposed midriffs and butt crack became priority #1. I remember walking into a tween girls’ clothing store and horrified at their underwear display – bikini and low-rise underwear for tweens. What does a 9-year-old need low-rise underwear for? Apparently to make sure her underwear doesn’t show too much under those cute low-rise jeans. Duh.

Bethany isn’t 9 anymore. She’ll be 14 the day after Christmas. And when she tries on a pair of jeans I ask her to sit down in them before I’ll pay for them. When she tries on a shirt I ask her to raise her hands in the air because I care about whether or not the shirt rides up and shows off the spot where she was once tethered to me for sustenance.

But fashion and appropriateness can feel like a moving target. I don’t have big issue with her wearing a bikini, but I may change my mind on that this summer. I think she looks great in those low-cut skinny jeans, but I don’t want boys or men googling her. I want her to see herself as God (and Peter and I) see her – beautiful inside and out. But I also remember what it’s like to be a teenager, and I’m still the kind of woman who likes to look good in what she wears. And I want her to understand that what she wears isn’t as important as her heart, but that it’s OK to appreciate her physical beauty as well as a fabulous fitting pair of jeans. Clothes don’t make the woman, but we all know that at one point or another we’ve judged another woman for what she was or was not wearing.

See? Moving target.

A few nights ago Peter and I were watching ABC’s Nightline when a segment on tween/teen fashion came up. A national program called Pure Fashion was promoting modest fashion for teens. Pure Fashion’s creator and former Miss Georgia, Brenda Sharman says, “The idea with Pure Fashion is very countercultural.” She goes on to explain that the program is for girls with courage, and that is extends beyond fashion to cover proper behavior and actions for Christian girls who wish to remain virtuous until marriage.

But something about that segment bothered me, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Perhaps it’s knowing what it’s like to be judged based on appearances and not wanting my daughter or her friends to be judged that harshly…or for them to judge others based on their fashion choices. Maybe it’s because I want to believe that what I wear isn’t all that important but I hold in tension the reality that what I choose to wear can communicate messages I intend or don’t intend to communicate. There’s a reason we call the power suit the “power” suit.

So, should we even be asking the question, “What would Jesus wear if he were a tween/teen girl?”? What have you seen in fashion trends that make you cringe? (Why are shoulder pads coming back? At least they cover the shoulders, right?) What are the lines you have drawn for your daughter or for yourselves as you shop and get dressed? (No belly button or butt crack exposure. That goes for both of us. And I refuse to let her shop at a particular store that insists on dimming the lights and assaulting potential customers’ sense of smell and hearing, but we’ve bought a few of those label’s items at rummage sales.)

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.

The Cost of Permanent Vanity

I’m vain. 

I tend to be an emotional and emotive person. I cry. Lots. A mentor once told me that 1.) she had never met anyone who cried as much as I did, and 2.) that my free-flowing tears for my own pain and that of others gave people permission to cry as well.

Which is why I got my tattoos – permanent eyeliner.

Yes, it hurt. A lot. But repetitive needle pokes on my eyelids were nothing compared to childbirth with no pain meds and then nearly bleeding to death. It’s all relative.

But I must say that spending a few hundred dollars to permanently “apply” eyeliner made me wrestle a bit with my own vanity, my values, my theology of makeup if you will. There are enough images in the media to argue away most everything I do in the morning to get ready for the day. Did I really want to permanently attach myself to a standard of beauty?

Buying a trendy piece of clothing is one thing. Buying a bottle of nail polish seems like a much lower level of commitment. Even hair color fades, and now the gray hairs are insisting on equal time as the drugstore box red #660. But a tattoo?

There have been plenty of beauty/vanity missteps. Um. 1988-1995 had several bad perms, cuts, close encounters with hairspray and gel, heavy handed makeup and MIA tweezers. (Seriously, why didn’t anyone tell me?!)

I tend to over-agonize about a lot of things. I have this tiny problem. I want to do the right thing the right way, and my moral compass tries to weigh many things simultaneously. Somehow I was able to make the decision and do it.

I don’t remember how long the tattoos took. The guy was meticulous, making sure the lines were even, the color just right. But immediately after the procedure, which sounded a little like being at the dentist’s office, I would have to describe it by paraphrasing a line out of “Good Hair”: I didn’t feel as beautiful as I thought I would. My eyes were puffy and then scabby. I looked as if I had been crying for days and then covered my eyes in antibacterial ointment.

Fortunately for me, after molting for a week my vanity had paid off.

A friend of mine confessed (and I use that word because that’s what it feels like sometimes when we share our deepest, most vain moments) she was curious about dyeing eyelashes. I’ve known other women who have lighter colored hair mention their addiction to mascara. We all have that one beauty product we’ve sold our souls to. Without it we feel washed out, unkempt, unfinished.

I don’t regret the permanent eyeliner, but it’s definitely a decision that makes me stop and think every day about how God sees me. God meets me everyday in the mirror when I skip the eyeliner and go straight for the lipgloss. Where in your vanity does God  me you?

Softening My Skin in a Mud Bath

My apologies to those who landed here because they were searching for information on skin care.

Zondervan’s decision to remove Deadly Viper Character Assassin and Mike & Jud’s decision to shut down their website is heating up the blogosphere once again. I’m concerned about the way some of these posts and tweets could be read – tone is a difficult thing to express well in the anonymous electronic world. And as many of us have learned during the past three weeks, the blogosphere can run pretty fast and furious. Right now there is a lot of mud being slung in all directions.

But one theme that has appeared in a variety of places has been the call to those who were offended (pick me, pick me) to grow, get, have “thicker skin”. The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is akin to saying “don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re choosing to be offended” – all of the interpretations lend itself to telling the offended person that this is their personal issue they personally have to overcome.

I don’t want thick skin, and I pray against that. Lately it’s been a daily prayer.

Literally speaking, skin is our largest organ providing protection, support and circulation (I helped Corban study for his science test). Healthy skin is able to do those things well. Unhealthy or damaged skin put the rest of the body in danger as sensory and circulatory abilities are hampered.

When I think of thick skin I actually think of dead skin that hasn’t been shed properly. The callous on my toe from those beautiful but painful new shoes. The gnarly cuticles that snag my most delicate sweaters. The tough skin on my elbows from resting on them too much when I have writer’s block. I scrub off the callous. I cut my cuticles (I know, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to push them back and put lotion on them to soften them.) I exfoliate my elbows. And then a moisturize like crazy to soften the skin so that it’s pliable.

I don’t want thick skin because honestly when I think of thick skin I think of elephants and their thick skin. Elephants are beautiful animals, but I don’t want to look like an elephant.

I don’t want thick skin because I do not believe God wants us to create a bigger barrier to feeling and engaging deeply with God and with one another. Our sinful natures make it tough enough. Adding more to the junk of our souls or covering it up with thicker skin isn’t going to help.

I pray for a tender heart and soft skin so that I can hear what God has to say to me, our community, our world in that pain. When someone offends me, brushing it off doesn’t allow for a sacred moment between me, the offender and God. Thick skin means I just “get over it” and move along. But what if God doesn’t want us to move on so quickly all the time? What if our attempts at getting over it just mean “it” never goes away?

There have been some nasty comments in reaction to the Deadly Viper situation – people assigning motive and intent, name-calling, etc. In some places it’s getting mean. If we all get a thicker skin I’m afraid we’ll never understand each other. And besides, Jesus didn’t tell people to get thicker skin. He didn’t tell the bleeding woman to stop being a victim and get over the social outcast thing.  

Issues of race, ethnicity and gender all involve tough conversations about power and privilege. I don’t like being called names. I don’t like being lumped together and being referred to as the “minority tail wagging the majority dog” (yup, that’s an actual comment on a blog). I don’t like being told to stop playing victim because I made some noise and the authors were the sacrifice (yup, that’s real too). But I suspect people who thought nothing of the initial outcry paid much attention because maybe they never had to. Maybe the anger and disbelief over the book being pulled and the authors shutting down the website has more to do with never having anyone tell them to get over themselves? See, it can get ugly and polarizing real fast. Thick skin will just keep us from going deeper. 

I’m not suggesting an over-the-top emotional response to everything in this world, but when the mud-slinging ramps up like it has our natural instinct is to duck…or throw more. But the mud has to land somewhere right? Maybe instead of ducking I need to sit in the mud a bit, get a little dirty and then let the mud soften my skin.

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.