After 15 years of living in America, last month I officially became a US citizen. The $675.00 application fee was enough to deter me (again), but I was planning a big trip to Bali and really didn’t want to go through yet another visa application. Last year I was denied a visa to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. When you have a foreign passport, particularly a Jamaican passport, governments don’t allow you in their country without a mountain of paperwork. Just in case you decide to extend your stay from a week to forever. I’ve had to submit three months bank statements, proof of international insurance, my travel itinerary, letters from my job verifying my employment. So after Tenerife denied my application, but kept my $95.00 fee, I finally had it.
The N-400 is quite an intimidating form. This is the form for alien naturalization. On one particular page, I had to list the times I’ve been outside of the US for more than 48 hours in the last two years. Needless to say, I needed three more sheets to complete this section. I worried a little about my application being denied, because I had spent so much time outside of the country. I pictured the interviewer, looking over his glasses asking me, “Don’t you love America? Why have you spent so much time outside of this wonderful country?” I may have had a nightmare or two about this. I finished my application, sighed deeply as I looked at the $675.00 money order and thought of all the shoes I could have bought with that money and stuffed the envelope and mailed my package off to the immigration offices.
About a month later, I received my fingerprinting notice. My application was moving along nicely. A biometric fingerprint had to be taken to check if I had any felonies or overdue child support. It was at this office that I picked up the study guide. There are a total of one hundred civics and American history questions in the study guide, along with answers and explanations. Applicants must answer six out of ten questions accurately in order to qualify for citizenship. The trick is they can ask you any of six out the one hundred. Here are a few of the questions;
#66 When was the constitution written?
#64 There were 13 original states. Name three.
#74 Name one problem that led to the Civil War.
One of the answers listed to #74 was slavery. Slavery was a problem; a problem like an ingrown toenail that needed to be removed; a problem like missing the last train. I was astounded by the dumbing down of history that was in this study guide. If I hadn’t studied American History for my CXC’s (for which I received a distinction) then I would have believed that the enslavement of an entire people that were treated as chattel and not human beings was a “problem”. Here’s another one;
#48 There are four amendments to the constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.
Answer: You don’t have to pay (a poll tax) to vote.
“After the 15th Amendment was passed, some leaders of the southern states were upset that African Americans could vote. These leaders designed fees called poll taxes to stop them from voting.”
Poll taxes were endured up until 1918 and beyond.
They were “upset.” Oh that explains it. The 15th Amendment was passed in 1869, but not realized until about 100 years later. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, violent and blatant means of intimidation, African Americans were successfully disenfranchised. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act 1965 before Southern states would recognize the votes of African Americans. This was during Martin Luther King’s time. Almost a whole century had passed before a Black person could exercise their right to vote, all because the leaders were “upset” that Black people could decide on the future of their country. Silly billy!
Question #75 What was one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?
Answer: freed the slaves (Emancipation Proclamation)
This is a misconception. President Lincoln didn’t free the slaves out of the goodness of his heart. Freeing the slaves was an economic decision. The American economy was shifting from an agrarian to industrial. Lincoln realized that if America was to compete with the emerging industrialization in Britain, he had to get rid of the tenuous agricultural based economy. He didn’t set out to free the slaves originally. It was a “nice” consequence, but not his original intention. As Peter Tosh said, “Poli-tricks! Not politics.”
Two months passed before I got my interview date. Now I had to answer how they wanted me to answer. I had to tell myself that now wasn’t the time to tell the interviewer about the historical inaccuracies of the book. I just had to pass the test and be out. My interviewer’s name was J. Cash. I joked with him that I hoped his name was Johnny Cash. Corny I know but I was nervous. I answered the first six questions correctly. I had to read a simple sentence out loud then write the sentence to prove my fluency in English. Hello! I write a blog, in English. Duh. I told Mr. Cash that I needed to be in the first available swearing group because I needed the certificate to get my passport for my trip the next week. The next class was that Friday at 10:00 a.m.
Swearing in Day
I just wanted to get my certificate. Damn all the pomp and ceremony surrounding becoming a US citizenship I had a date with Bali and I wasn’t planning on missing it. I dressed modestly, but there was a young lady who dressed as if she were going to cocktail party at 10am on a chilly morning. She had on sling back heels with studs and a black backless dress. Everybody was staring at her, and not because she looked cute. She looked ridiculous. Poor ting. The ceremony was equally ridiculous. Jus’ gimme mi papa nuh? Cho!
I had to listen to the country and western song, “Proud to be an American.” Listen to speaker who wanted us to register to vote immediately after the ceremony (poll tax not included). I had to suffer through three more speakers before it was time to for them to give me my sh#!. But we weren’t done yet. I had to take the oath. Now I was remiss in reading the oath in the study guide, because I was not prepared for what was to come. I had to swear to bear arms for America, but when the part came for me to renounce Jamaica, oh lawd! I knew I applied for dual citizenship I don’t have to renounce Jamaica. No sah! Then I noticed Mr. Cash walking the along aisle making sure we were really taking the oath. He was looking in our faces and at our mouths. Mr. Cash don’t play.
I was sitting in the back and as they called up row after row I began to feel the excitement mount within me. I was like waiting for the red peas soup to cook on a Saturday. You can smell the pot, but the dumpling nuh cook yet. Then I noticed these people were taking pictures like they were on a step and repeat. Posing and cheesing as if they were on the red carpet. Let’s go!
As soon as I got my Certificate of Naturalization I exited like a bat outta hell! I had to flight to catch to Miami where I was a applying for my brand new US passport.