I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was told to be at the courthouse on W Lafayette street in downtown Detroit.
I was actually a little surprised the naturalization ceremony was in a courthouse. I’ve always associated “court” with settlements, decisions and fighting. In retrospect I should have realized that accepting citizenship to a country that I was not born into, would be a serious and legal procedure and therefore required to be in a court of law.
I grabbed my camera but decided against taking it in when I saw the security. It reminded me of the other courts and federal buildings I’d been in where cameras were never allowed. I instead opted to take my blackberry. Wrong choice. Back to the car to leave my phone.
Getting through security the second time took longer. I wandered up the main hall admiring the arched ceiling. I must have looked like I was preparing to be Americanized because I was told to get in line without being asked why I was there.
It took years for me to get my green card, and having been warned in intimidating ways at the border about what would happen should I lose or forget it, I was nervous about handing it over while being checked in. Begrudgingly, I passed it over to the clerk while she checked me in.
I pulled open the heavy doors. The room looked less like a courthouse and more like a wedding scene. Folding chairs lined the room from three directions, all facing the podium front and center.
People began to fill the seats and I soon realized many oath-takers had brought family members with them. Celebratory chatter filled the room between the flashes of cameras. Relatives had video poised to catch every moment. Camaraderie between countries was evident as strangers took turns taking pictures for others so their family albums would include every member. The citizen-in-waiting posing in front of the flag seemed to be the “must have” photo op.
The clerk announced herself and said she would answer a few questions before the judge arrived. She went over a few very important rules including, “some judges don’t like you chewing gum or wearing hats, so please don’t.”
The judge who arrived didn’t seem nearly as uptight as the initial rules suggested. She welcomed us all to the United States, asked us to raise our right hand while we echoed her lead on the oath of citizenship one line at a time.
Oath of Allegiance
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.
We moved onto repeat the Pledge of Allegiance
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.
She then welcomed us to the United States and the new citizens were congratulated and hugged by their personal well wishers.
The judge and her assistant took turns calling all the oath takers by name and mentioning their country of origin. The number and variety of countries represented was absolutely fascinating. Each received a handshake and their official certificate of citizenship.
I picked up my belongings and left the building an American citizen.