For this post for Theresa's Good Fences I have to ask you to really think outside the box. My fence this week is not a real physical fence but an invisible one. The one which prevented us to vote in the US, to apply for certain jobs, even to serve on a jury.
We couldn't do this. There was an invisible fence around our lives for the past 14 years.
Until yesterday, Wednesday, February 25th, 2015. The day we became US citizens.
We had gone through the process of applying for citizenship, got our biometrics taken as a second step, were invited to the interview in January - and finally received the letter with the invitation to the oath ceremony in Oakland's Paramount Theatre.
Oh the joy!!
We had to be there by 9:15. For us this means to get on the road early to avoid most of the morning rush hour through Sonoma and Marin Counties where US 101 becomes clogged almost every morning during the week. We left shortly after six and arrived in Oakland around 7:30 which gave us ample time for our last breakfast as pure Germans.
I had a very tasty breakfast crepe - and in the background you can see the Paramount Theatre.
Here it is in its full glory:
It was built in 1931 and is a beautiful Art Deco building. It started out as a movie theater and today is the home of the Oakland East Bay Symphony.
When we were done with our breakfast we walked over even though it was still way too early. However, there were already lines and we decided to get in line and wait with the crowd.
Soon afterwards, the doors were opened and we entered the beautiful lobby. All the following pictures were taken in rather bad light and unfortunately are very blurry.
The ceiling in the auditorium and the lower floor where the soon-to-be citizens were seated while family members and friends had to stay at the gallery (these pictures were taken at the very beginning when most people were still outside).
We first saw a beautiful slide show with old pictures from Ellis Island; an address by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (on video) who herself emigrated from Czechoslovakia at the age of 11 (I didn't know that); some patriotic songs performed by the ensemble "Tosca" with one of the most moving parts of the ceremony, when we all sang Woody Guthrie's "This land is your land" - ooh, I still get goosebumps! We had representatives from Voter Registration, Passport Department and Social Security tell us about our new rights followed by a short keynote speech. Then the calling of the countries was announced - there were 1037 people from 97 countries! What I like was that we were encouraged to cheer for our country which of course I did when Germany was called. We were asked to stand up when our country was called, and when everybody stood we took the Oath of Allegiance. With that we were US citizens - at 10:15 am.
Before we all sang the Star Spangled Banner our President appeared on video with a short speech addressing us, the new citizens. I am very happy and grateful that I received my citizenship during his presidency.
We said the Pledge of Allegiance and then the ceremony was officially over and each of us got her or his Certificate of Naturalization. After that we were free to go.
One story I have to tell you because it was sweet and probably rather unusual (and very typical for me). At the entrance to the auditorium we had to give our Green Card to the immigration officer. When "my" immigration officer took my card, I touched two of my fingers with my lips and then touched the card that was already in his hands in a kind of goodbye kiss (after all, this card was with me for 10 years and I had protected it like mad). The officer laughed, showed me one of his cheeks and said "what about a kiss here?". Then he saw the Geek, realized that he is my husband and just laughed. Later, when he gave us the certificates, he laughed again and I asked him whether he still wanted his kiss. After a reassuring nod from the Geek I gave him a kiss on his cheek - and he sure was happy! A little bit later he came back to us, saying "I want to congratulate you again. I had so much fun with you guys." I guess he doesn't get too many kisses from the new citizens...
So now I am a "dear fellow American". It feels right. I am also still a German since we have dual citizenship. That, too, feels right.
And for those of you who still want to see a real fence, here is one that I shot on our way home, in the beautiful rolling hills of my county.
The perfect card for a new US citizen,
available in my Etsy store.