America is in the heart
Moments before I swore to the Stars and Stripes and everything for which it stands, court workers punched a hole on my greencard; then after the ceremony they kept it in exchange of a certificate that certainly says I am no longer a Pinoy. An awkward move, but it has to be taken. That’s the price we immigrants pay if we were to live in America free from that mortifying alien tag that hangs like a Damocles sword over our heads.
Huh? How did it happen? I am no longer a Filipino? “And that’s irrevocable,” a smart aleck behind me butted in. “That is, if you understand what irrevocable means.”
“I’m not sure, sehr, the last time I look, that darn word has taken a new form.”
I saw some people cry during the oath-taking; but the obvious and dominant feeling of the naturalization applicants that morning was pride, and understandably so. To be a citizen of this great nation is, undoubtedly, an utmost privilege. I was trying to figure out why some people get teary-eyed; maybe they had a difficult journey, maybe the passage was blissful, or maybe they were just overwhelmed by the thought that, now, America dwells in the heart.
There I was in the middle of a huge hall stoic, solemn, sacrosanct – doing the motions of naturalization. But when the judge mentioned something like human beings are essentially the same; they value freedom, first and foremost, and that is why they come to America. That hit me real hard. I instantly felt a lump in my throat. Sure, the Philippines is also into this great experiment called democracy, but over there real freedom belongs only to the oligarchs and the moneyed few. The Philippine bureaucracy is seriously flawed; it is still of the few, by the few, and for the few. And, as a journalist, that makes me a “dead-man-walking” each time I write the truth that upsets the high and mighty. You bet every Filipino who recognizes this sad truism is entitled to cry. Indeed, we can’t blame them if they seek to live some place else where the rule of law applies to everyone.
The Filipinos came in second in number, next only to the Mexicans, who composed the majority of the 4,437 applicants. The Vietnamese and the Chinese were third and fourth respectively; then follow the rest of the world. Looking at the mosaic of faces from different parts of the globe, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Pinoys will be able to keep second spot “when the roll will call up yonder.”
On my way out, a lady behind me was hollering unashamedly: “Now I can petition my mother, my sister, my dog!” I was at a different dimension. I was “speaking in tongue” as extreme hunger consumed me. No, I’m sure I was singing a funeral dirge to a departed Numeral Alien. “Bayankopatawarin mo ako…”
The aroma of roasted onion and hotdog coming from Figueroa Street whip up my hunger even more. The usually desolate grounds of the L.A. Convention Center suddenly came alive with enterprising hawkers selling citizenship certificate jackets, pins, U.S. flags, t-shirts, Americana mementos, and anything patriotic.
I was looking for a good spot around the L.A. Live and ready to take my lunch — two packets of choco pie and a bottle of chilled-turned-lukewarm water — when my son, who works in nearby downtown L.A, called to say he is buying lunch for me. That was my first meal as an American – a generous serving of chicken tortilla soup and harvest green salad. Starting that day, I became a citizen and a human being, and no longer a numeral alien; I buried that old self in the deep crevices of the L.A. Convention Center.
Now, I can browse, without trepidation, at those supermarket tabloids with photoshop-rendered images of aliens talking to Bill Clinton or the “resurrected Elvis.”