US Citizenship: Head Versus Heart

British Head and Heart are watching the evening news – never a good idea, no matter which side of the Atlantic anyone resides. Tonight, Head’s had enough.

“Right,” says Head. “Heart, we must get US citizenship. We don’t have the right to complain about politics if we haven’t taken the steps necessary to participate in the process.”

“But … But,” says Heart, “we vowed to remain British and only British. You said you’d rather take a beating than have it any other way. Besides, we’re going back to England permanently one day.”

“Well, Heart,” says Head, “we don’t know when that day will come. And you’re taking a beating with all this anti-immigrant nonsense anyway so what’s one more bashing? Get citizenship, participate in the next election and let’s see if you feel better.” Head pats itself on the … head.

Heart sits in a corner, grizzling. “But I don’t want to get US citizenship!”

“Take heart, Heart,” says Head. “There’s an advantage beyond voting. As green card holders, we can only leave the US for six months at a time. With one of our kids now living in England and one in the US, dual citizenship allows us to be with each for as long as we please. Yay!” Head nudges Heart out of the corner and hands it a tissue.

Now for the hard bit, Head thinks. Getting Heart to fill in the paperwork. Copious amounts of paperwork, including every flight taken since the invention of the aeroplane, tax records the likes of which no US president must show, and family tree dating back to 1066 – only anno domini, thank goodness.

Heart bleeds all over the forms. “I. Don’t. Wanna!”

“Stop it, Heart. This is exactly why I’m above you.”

“Oh yeah? This is exactly why I control your blood supply.”

“Shut up! Fill in the damn paperwork.”

Head and Heart get in the car, off to the biometrics appointment, fighting about who should sit in the passenger seat and whether they should stop at the rest area to hit the vending machine for a chocolate bar. At the United States Customs and Immigration Enforcement office, the staff take finger prints. And photos.

Heart fights for a retake. “We can’t stick that face on a document that will haunt us the rest of our lives!”

Head replies,’ “If you’d just cheer up, the photos wouldn’t look like they’d been taken by a mortician, would they now.” Heart picks up the pen and check boxes as to eye and hair colour – after a spirited discussion about the ethics of not mentioning natural hair colour. The car ride home is … frosty.

Waiting for the citizenship interview is tough on Head. “We need this done quickly and efficiently.”

Heart disagrees. ‘No hurry. Happy as I am, thanks.”

Regardless, the official letter arrives. Citizenship interview date set for March 20th, 2019. “Plenty of time to learn the answers to all 100 historical, geographical, and political questions for the citizenship test,” says Head.

“What test?” says Heart, before entering cardiac arrest territory on viewing the enormous book of questions that came with the letter.

Studying isn’t made any easier by the fact not a single US citizen known to Head and Heart can answer any question on the test except “What colour is the White House?” and “When is the Fourth of July?”

“Pathetic,” says Head.

“I’m not alone!” says Heart.

Back in the car on March 20th – no stop at the vending machine because both Head and Heart are somewhat nauseous – the mood is sombre. Authors of Federalist Papers, names of longest rivers in the US, dates of the Constitution Convention swirl in Head’s head. Heart’s too busy practicing saying “Yes” when asked if it’s taking US citizenship sound of mind and free of coercion.

“Well, she was nice, wasn’t she?” says Heart on the way out of the interview.

“Easy for you to say,” says Head. “You didn’t answer a single question, except the last one.”

Heart frolics to the car, thrilled it said “Yes” in the right place. “Are we done now? Can we vote and travel?”

“No. Got to take the oath.”

“What oath?”

This one: ‘I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.’

“Holy heart attack, Head! Can I cross my arteries while I say it?”

“No. But luckily the United Kingdom decrees you don’t really mean to renounce UK citizenship when you take the oath. We can still celebrate the Queen’s birthday as dual US/UK citizens.”

Heart’s heart sings. “Excellent. So we’re lying under oath but it’s government sanctioned.”

“Shut up.” Head’s got a headache.

Another month’s wait and it’s off to the oath ceremony at the Federal Courthouse, bypassing the vending machine because family’s taking Head and Heart to lunch afterwards. If Heart behaves.

Heart bounces through security and gasps at the beauty of the ceremonial courtroom. “Look at all these hearts! So many emotions wrapped in colourful packages from all over the world! How pretty!”

“Yep. Heads full of all kinds of rationales from thirty-five nations. Now, shhh. Listen to the judge. Oh, she’s good. Welcoming, kind, articulate, respectful of all homelands – and an immigrant herself!”

Heart leaps up and yells, “She just said United Kingdom! That’s us! WOO HOO!”

Head reads the oath. Heart aches, all hireth-y, but remains respectful. The flames of Notre Dame rain sad ash over mono-citizenship ties to Europe, but Head and Heart smile.

The judge says, “Welcome, new citizens of the United States of America!”

Head and Heart hug. “I’m not crying. You’re crying,” says Head.

“I cry all the time,” says Heart. “It’s often my job. But, Head, I’m glad you made me come today. It was the right thing to do.”

“I know,” says Head. “But that didn’t make it easy.”

“Let’s get lunch with the family,” says Heart. “I’m having a high-cholesterol dessert.”

“Me too,” says Head. “But before we leave the courthouse, let’s register to vote.”

The Day I Missed the Mark

Watson

The Day I Missed the Mark.

The best piece of author branding advice I’ve received to date was to be myself in my social media interactions. So that’s what I am; an oddball mix of England, America, dogs, horses, gardens, world travels, cream teas, books, epic fails and homesickness all bundled up in self-deprecating humour. And, it seems, I’m slowly finding my tribe online.

But one day I missed the mark. I shared me on a bad day.

The US administration began separating children from their families at the border. That should have been a bad day for all of us. But I took it very hard. After all, I write about finding home, about separation from home, about missing home. I’m also an immigrant and a mother. I couldn’t imagine losing my children in exchange for a shot at a safe home. I. Just. Couldn’t.

So, I posted the following on Instagram and Twitter on June 20th, along with a photo of one of my dogs staring up into the camera: ‘Not feeling very funny today. I’ll be making a long journey with this face soon. If he’s taken away at immigration, I’ll die. And he’s just a dog!’ I hash tagged ‘children first’, ‘immigration’, ‘keep families together’ and ‘no separation’.

Within a few hours, I lost five percent of my Instagram followers.

Now, I’m no JK Rowling with millions hanging on my every word. Five percent can hardly be defined as a mass exodus in my case. But to me it was significant. We indie authors compete for attention against millions of other voices and I treasure each follower on my social media platforms. I’m honoured you’d want to spend a few seconds of your day with me. Losing you hurts.

I asked myself why I lost followers. Was the subject matter unexpected, coming from goofy old me? Was it taken as politically biased? I didn’t mean it to be. I figured every affiliation would be struck dumb by the cruelty. Were followers just jaded by the barrage of negativity? Possibly. I know I was exhausted by it. Maybe you were all bots and got booted at that particular moment. Truth is, I don’t know what happened. But, slowly, over the next few days, I came to this conclusion: I don’t care what happened. If you look back at the list of criteria for being me, you won’t find ‘cruel’. And I won’t let ‘cruel’ be added to that list by default because I didn’t speak up.

As I write this, an effort is underway to reunite families. That’s good. It’s a better day. But what about the next bad day? Will my followers tolerate me sharing my bad days? Guess what? That’s the last time I’ll ask that question. Because if you want me to be myself ‒ and I hope you do ‒ you’ll need to add ‘not cruel’ to the list of fun facts about me.

Note to self: being you is not going to please everyone. Be you anyway.

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And the Good Citizen Award goes to …

citizenship

Immigrants. Emigrants. They’ve been around forever. Just part of living on a planet whose inhabitants are capable of inventing trains, planes, and wooden canoes. But in both the United States and the European Union, it seems immigration is the number one topic of 2016. Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s welcome? Who’s not? Almost makes you miss the Kardashians, doesn’t it?

So, here we are, sorting through the implications of the Brexit vote and the recent US presidential election. And though both these events are only partially defined by immigration, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what makes a good citizen, regardless of country of residence or country of birth. I ask myself: What Would Dunster Think? (If you haven’t read Dunster’s Calling, Dunster is an Exmoor pony who’s so much smarter than most of us. And he wouldn’t care where you were from, as long as you brought sugar lumps with you. But I digress …)

Good citizens can surely be defined. They behave in a civilized manner (even when Santa’s not watching), pay taxes, follow the law, and make a concerted effort to respect others’ opinions. They educate themselves, donate to charity when they can, contribute time and talent to their communities. Pick up litter. Help any living creature: neighbours, dogs, hedgehogs, Kardashians. They only laugh at others if they accept that others can laugh at them.

But is all that enough to be a good citizen? Apparently not.

To be a fully-fledged, able-to-vote, good citizen, you see, one needs a piece of paper. One needs a document that states said person has raised a hand and sworn allegiance. Oh, and paid an exorbitant fee. Take a look at the oath one is required to take to become a US citizen:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” (Source: uscis.gov)

clipart-good-citizenship

But where are the hedgehogs? The neighbors? The conflicting opinions? Where’s the charity, the contribution, in anything other than a military sense? Where’s the kindness, the love for one’s fellow man? Where’s the commitment to laugh at the Joe Biden memes, no matter who you voted for? Where’s the agreement not to complain if you have your piece of paper but didn’t vote?

I’ve struggled with this rather myopic official concept of citizenship for twenty-five years. I’ve met many others who also struggle. We ask ourselves: are we fully-fledged good citizens even though, on paper, we are only permanent residents? Are we allowed to question, cry and laugh, even share those memes, if we don’t have that citizenship document but abide by all the other criteria of citizenship?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Whether you’re a citizen or not.

(Image credit: clipartbest.com)

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