America’s New Gloria-fied Citizen

America’s New Gloria-fied Citizen

On October 24, 2013, I officially became a citizen of the United States of America. I am certain most native-born Americans don’t think twice about their legal status, but after going through the naturalization process, I have to confess it is quite a grand feeling to belong to the greatest country in the world.

On a rather grey and chilly Thursday morning, I arrived at 7:45 a.m. at the Los Angeles Convention Center, an eminent structure with walls of green glass located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. Because I had only recently turned 18 and the rest of my family had already been naturalized earlier in the year, I was to go through the Naturalization Oath Ceremony on my own.

Uncertain of what exactly I was supposed to be doing, I simply followed the crowd up a flight of stairs and took my place in line behind hundreds of people of various ethnicities to submit my documents. Then, I received a small American flag and a large envelope filled with brochures detailing how to vote and other citizen-related material. Among all the adults and the gravity of the procession, I found myself feeling more mature than usual. Throughout the process, vigorous patriotic music resonated throughout the large hall, and I felt like I was at the largest Fourth of July celebration.

Once everyone had filed into the hall, the U.S. District Court’s official swearing of oath was finally in session; those present were asked not to take any pictures, remove our hats (unless it was a religious headwear), and to turn off all cell phones.  Led by Judge Patrick Walsh, we repeated the oath verbatim. After uttering the final word of the oath, Judge Walsh proudly pronounced, “Congratulations, you are now American citizens!” and the auditorium exploded with the celebratory cheers, whistles and screams of a thousand newly minted American citizens burst. I found myself joining everyone in the permeating surge of excitement by also waving my small flag in the air. I was now an American citizen!

As the presiding judge shared his personal story of his grandparents’ immigration from Ireland–their immense struggle, yet infinite happiness adjusting to America, I joined the others in the crowd who were probably recollecting stories of joys and trials that followed their own immigration. Memorable scenes throughout the eleven years since my emigration from South Korea rapidly passed before my eyes in a long, familiar filmstrip.

The ceremony closed with a clip of President Barack Obama personally congratulating the new citizens, challenging us not to remain idle, but to take active part in our civil duties and in making America great. A music video of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” was played, and I felt my heart melt as I was flooded with memories of a childhood growing up in the foreign, yet all-too-familiar America. I had heard this song every year in elementary school, and recalled, even at such a young age, feeling strangely patriotic for a country I wasn’t even legally recognized as being a part of. I still remember loved the sensation of being a part of this marvelous nation and wholeheartedly professing, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

Interestingly enough, after all that, nothing too significant happened. We waited some more in our seats, submitted our voting applications, and exited the building. On the other side, Republican and Democratic Party members asked new voters to join their respective parties, and various stands took photos or sold $10 frames for our Naturalization certificates. I found my mom, took several pictures on my phone, got in the car and headed home.

In the weeks that followed, I began to see in myself a stark shift in mindset and attitude. What I had considered a privilege in this country was now—every bit—my right.

I began to realize that my newfound ideals are shared more by other immigrants who have gone through the entire naturalization process, than by those who were born American citizens.  There is something to be said about receiving something you did not once have before, something others around the world envy. Being an American citizen means more than just having the rights written in our Constitution–those rights which are taken for granted every day by our citizens.

With rights come responsibilities. As a legal American citizen, I cannot wait to take part in shaping its history, alongside our courageous forefathers who fought to make this land the proud and free nation it is today.