Monday, March 31, 2014

Portrait of a ceremony

We have come a long way from our first confused and tentative steps in this new country.

Back in 2001 when we first came here our intention was to live here for at least the three years that my temporary employment visa would allow.  Now, just over 13 years later we have reached a point where we are able to really participate in our adopted country by becoming citizens.

Our ceremony was held on March 25th in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium where 798 new citizens were sworn in by a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge.

We had a long wait between arriving, being double-checked at the door and then taking the actual oath.  Plenty of time to take some video and still portraits of the ceremony.

We started our day at an American Diner in Lowell.

Nick and I settled into a booth near a window in the back and were fascinated by the light through the venetian blinds.

While we were eating breakfast, Charlie Baker, the Swampscott Republican candidate running for governor of Massachusetts, appeared at our table to introduce himself.  How ironic that on the the day that we became eligible to vote we would be canvassed by a political candidate.  No doubt there will be more of this to come.

After breakfast we had a really hard time getting to the auditorium.  We didn't know it then, but the size of the ceremony had more or less brought the center of Lowell to a standstill as people arrived and looked for parking.

The immigration staff were more cheerful than they had ever been in previous meetings but were still pretty forceful and aggressive as they sought to settle and organize the crowd of applicants into the hall.

In the lobby, a long line of us waited for our green cards to be taken and for the last round of questions: "Are you still willing to bear arms for America?",
"Have you committed any crime since your last interview?",
"Has your marital status changed?".

One poor guy who seemed Eastern European with a poor command of English was standing flustered as the immigration official tried to ascertain whether he had changed his marital status or not. Hopefully they sorted that out for him!

Once we were inside, sitting in these incredibly narrow seats, we had to wait for 2 hours until the judge arrived for the ceremony.

I suppose, considering how it might be a long process, they buffer in enough time to get everyone organized so that the judge is not kept waiting while they seat everyone.

All applicants were given these little flags and the paperwork with checkmarks on it that confirmed that we had answered the new round of questions correctly and were sent to sit in the bottom of the auditorium.  Their partners, family and friends were sent to the balcony as mere spectators of this event.

Luckily I had Nick with me and we were able to complain about getting bored together.

When the judge arrives, the auditorium is converted into a courthouse with the announcement by the clerk of the court that we are all invited to draw near "so that we might be heard", followed by very brief remarks by the person representing immigration services about the number of people who were changing their names and the number of people applying for citizenship and how very carefully they had all been investigated.

The judge is bound by law to talk to the new citizens about the responsibilities of living in a democracy and it was interesting, having been to Anne's ceremony a week before, to hear the two versions of the same speech encouraging participation in the democracy to ensure its continued health.  "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, but there are none better...."

And then amidst all the chaos of the certificates and of people straining to hear their names being called - a sense of relief and joy.


  1. Wonderful essay. We are lucky to have all of you as citizens. Congrats

  2. Great pics and story, Tim!

    -= Rudolph

  3. Thanks for letting us read this and see the pics!

  4. Awesome to have two more Bouwers in the melting pot. All the more impressive since you had to work hard for it. Contrast that to most of the rest of us that might take our good fortune to be born here for granted. Congratulations and welcome to you and your family.