Giving Thanks and Becoming an American
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now a new beginning our commentator Sandip Roy in an adopted country.
SANDIP ROY: One sunny San Francisco morning a few weeks ago, 1,511 people from 95 countries became citizens of the United States. I was one of them.
I hereby declare, on oath...
Unidentified Woman: That I absolutely and entirely...
ROY: That I absolutely and entirely...
And I was ready. There were 96 questions in my quick civics lesson CD. Apparently after you learn them all you can become a real American.
Unidentified Man: What is the Bill of Rights? The first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
ROY: But I found the first traces of creeping Americanization in me long before I knew what was in the Bill of Rights.
On my trip back to India this summer, I remember just craving Diet Coke with ice from a soda fountain. No one drinks diet anything in India. I finally found it at McDonald's - a little flat and a few rupees more than regular Coke. Drinking diet (unintelligible) said my friend, oof, you've become so American.
The shadow of an American accent is already steeling into my missionary school English. You know, I spell humor without U after the O. And though I complain about the Iraq war in San Francisco, when some uncle in India starts ranting about your president, I feel defensive.
So I've been fingerprinted, paid my fees, and attested to my good moral character. No, I'm not a habitual drunkard, question 22A, and I haven't been a prostitute or smuggled controlled substances. I know about the 13 original states and nine Supreme Court justices, but other numbers are harder to face.
My mother calls and said it's been 18 years since I saw you on your birthday, and my heart breaks. I remember coming to America 18 years ago. My entire family gathered at the airport, my mother's eyes brimming with unshed tears, my baby niece asleep, my nephew not even born. Next time I go back to India, I'll carry a different passport and stand in a different line.
On the day of my citizenship interview, the officer seemed almost bored. He rattled off questions, hardly waiting for my answer. What is the Constitution? Who is the chief justice? Who is the governor of California? Arnold Schwarzenegger, I replied. And what's his best movie, he asked. That's not in my 96 questions. Is this a trick, I wondered, some kind of pop psychology test? "Kindergarten Cop," I ventured, choosing the Terminator's most non-violent, family-friendly, inoffensive movie that I could think of. And I guess I passed.
Unidentified Woman: Algeria, American Samoa.
ROY: Well, here I am in this giant hall with 1500 other excited people. They're waving little American flags and taking pictures on their cell phones while they wait for the moment that will turn them into Americans all at once.
Unidentified Woman: Yugoslavia, and last but not the least, Zambia.
(Soundbite of applause)
ROY: When my friend became a citizen, he got a cake to celebrate; half the icing in orange, white and green for the Indian flag, half in American red, white and blue. Me? I walked into a McDonald's in downtown San Francisco. One diet coke, regular, with ice, I said. That's it? said the teenager at the counter. That's it, I replied. Then I added, What the heck, make it large.
MONTAGNE: Commentator Sandip Roy is an editor with New America Media and host of "Upfront" on member station KALW in San Francisco.