My wife just became one.
Ten years ago, she moved to San Diego from Brazil. Today, she's a gringo (actually, a gringa), just like me.
On June 23, in an auditorium adjacent to City Hall downtown, Simone was one of the nearly 800 immigrants from across the globe sworn in as American citizens. Joel, my godfather-who gave Simone away at our wedding because her parents couldn't get travel visas from Brazil right after September 11-sat with me in the cheering section, trying to get a glimpse of our little patriot-to-be from the balcony.
"S-H-R-U-R-A-S-H...I? How in the heck do you say that?" said a white-haired man into a microphone. "Sha-rushi? Suh-ashi?"
The audience collectively cringed in 50 languages.
You could tell the guy (let's call him Uncle Sam) was trying to be kind as he warmed up the crowd during the interminable wait for the presiding judge to appear, but for me, his rhetoric felt like a verbal assault. He might as well have said, "Welcome to America, your name sucks," followed by a heartfelt, "but really, welcome."
For all I know, Uncle Sam is a senator's brother or a City Councilwoman's uncle, so I should probably hold my tongue-or fingers-but I can say for sure that he should not be entrusted with the responsibility of welcoming foreigners into our intimate circle of blue passport holders. Perhaps the Feds should invite someone more culturally sensitive...like Archie Bunker or Mel Gibson.
Nation after nation, Dude was an equal opportunity offender. "Did you say Konoko? Kanooko? Anybody else here from Japan, raise your hand." When he tried to pronounce the name of a woman from Eritrea, it sounded like he was going to swallow his tongue.
Zut alors! If I knew enough French, I might have tried faking like I was from Quebec, just so no one sitting nearby would equate me with the global name thrasher at the front of the room. I hadn't been less proud to be an American since my brother was hit by a tiny car (which he thereby damaged) outside a coffeehouse in Amsterdam. But as I looked at the friends and families en masse, I didn't see other embarrassed natives. Instead, I saw a sea of beaming faces, several with tears in their eyes, elated to see their loved ones becoming citizens of the great U.S. of A.
Then I remembered our wedding cake, with the Brazilian and U.S. flags sticking out of it, and my own eyes started to water, though that may actually have resulted from the guy in the row behind me. He was eating some horribly aromatic chutney thing, and even though I didn't understand a word he said, we did have one thing in common-smelling like his food for the rest of the day.
When we arrived at the office after the swearing-in, I busted out a pre-Independence Day freedom cake I had picked up at Albertson's. With red, white and blue icing and a star-spangled flag in the middle, it was one sweet slice of Americana.
Finally, my wife can vote-and now we're both waiting for election season so we can oust the incumbent citizenship ceremony moderator. Welcome to America, Simone...I think we should move to Brazil now. How the hell do you pronounce your last name again?
Happy Fourth of July, San Diego!
By the way, please say hi to Seth Combs (Page 12), the new editor here at PacificSD. Seth's something of an editorial superstar, but please don't mention that to him-it would just make him impossible to work with.