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It was a September morning in 2007. Yet another day in our retired life in Bangalore until we got a call from our younger son in California to joyfully announce that he was to become a father soon.
Earlier, thanks to the United States open-arms policy to admit foreign students and offer scholarships and assistantships where possible, both our sons were able to pursue their graduate degrees in the United States in their chosen fields of engineering, and be gainfully employed with multinational companies. Since then both my children have become United States citizens.
In the next few days of that wonderfully fateful call, we held frantic to and fro telephone conversations with both sons and their families. Soon, we were persuaded to seek permanent residence in the United States.
Thanks again to the United States government’s deep commitment to the “family bond” concept, parents of United States citizens were able to apply for green cards without any restrictive annual visa quota.
Thus launched the frantic search for documentation. This included birth certificates, marriage certificate, police clearances, and pre-emptive affidavits from elders in the families.
Six months later, armed with all possible documentation, if not a little more, we boarded a flight to San Francisco with all our earthly belongings, now rolled into two suitcases each, 50 pounds apiece.
The flight took off from Bangalore two hours late. Consequently we missed the connecting flight from the hub, and were bundled into a long detour flight that skipped Alaska to land in San Francisco eight hours after the scheduled arrival time.
That didn’t bother us so much as the make-do lunch we were served—bananas, cookies and yogurts for an Asian vegetarian meal. Understandably, they needed 48 or 72 hours notice to arrange for such special meals. However at the airport, on seeing a radiant daughter-in-law bearing the features of motherhood, we forgot all about the ordeal, and headed home.
We got the green card even without the customary interview—thanks probably to the thorough documentation—and in a much shorter time than it took in those days.
Time flies faster than you might think. More so when you have two cities to alternate for your stay, and three spirited grandsons to give you company, initially—and to stay away from, later.
Now it was time to apply for citizenship, or Naturalization. Here too, the more the care and truthfulness with which you fill the form, sure to be able to defend whatever you declare therein, the more it helps the interviewing officer to gauge your eligibility. Another great characteristic of the country is that it operates on trust. When you go through the mill successfully, the officer hands you a “congratulations” letter on the spot to affirm the fact that you have passed the interview and test. Upon receiving the aforementioned letter, we were told to expect the Oath Ceremony letter in the mail.
The waiting was difficult—so near yet so far. We received it, finally and our ceremony was scheduled for October 4.
As the day approached, fear engulfed us as the Government shutdown was gaining momentum. A newspaper reported that Germany had already issued a travel advisory to its citizens planning trips to the United States. The United Kingdom had followed suit, with a veiled hint that the situation still had not affected the immigrants, but one couldn’t be sure.
True, the representative from the Social Security Office that had opened a booth to enable the new citizens update their statuses from Permanent Resident to Citizen, said that their regular centers might face shutdown, and advised us to avail of their presence at the ceremony.
The U.S. Passport authorities could not even open their regular booth, again because of the Government shutdown, and sent a message that we go to their center nearby.
At the ceremony, we were informed that there were 72 citizens-to-be from 32 countries! If this is less, then what is more? Doesn’t it speak volumes for the country as the world’s best democracy or a land of opportunities, if not a true miniature world?
Among those who spoke after being bestowed citizenship, some ladies literally broke down. They regained composure and felt happy with the hope for a good life.
An elderly lady who could speak little English walked with difficulty up to the podium to speak. But she couldn’t. Seeing her plight the Adjudication Officer who learnt she was from Iran, suggested: “Say ‘Thank you’ in Iranian [Persian].” She promptly said: “thank you in Iranian.” Everyone took the fiasco in an all-in-the family spirit, and gave the 79-year old lady, now a fellow American, a thunderous applause.
V.V. Sundaram, a journalist by qualification, spent the best part of his career in book-publishing for an international organization.