Guest Author: Why I Decided To Become An American

[ Posted Sunday, March 22nd, 2009 – 15:02 UTC ]

The 19th of March is a date which I will now celebrate every year, because it is the day I became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I have to admit, I was surprised at my own emotions and feelings during the swearing-in ceremony. I got caught up in the excitement and joy, along with 450 other participants (who represented a total of 67 different countries). When prompted, we stood up -- one by one, and in groups -- when our country of origin was called. When we were all standing together, we swore the Oath of Allegiance to our new country. After this, we were now "from" one country -- we were all fellow American citizens. I was filled with civic pride, as I realized I can now vote and make a difference as an active citizen in my adopted country.

I was actually eligible for citizenship a few years ago. So, you might wonder: why did I wait so long to take that final step to become an American citizen? These reasons were many and varied: some were philosophical, some were simple laziness and procrastination, and some were eminently practical.

When I first came to America, I had no idea it would become permanent. Then I got married (these sorts of things do happen). The process I then followed to get a green card was confusing (to say the least). All the i's must be dotted and all the t's must be crossed, in quadruplicate. With references. An abundance of patience is required. But I finally made it through this bureaucratic process, and I became a "legal alien" (I hate that term, it sounds like I'm from Venus or something). I was then eligible to both legally exist and work in the United States, for the next ten years (until my green card needed renewing).

The only thing I really wanted to do which I could not (as an alien) was to vote. But was it really all that important -- especially since it did not seem to matter when it came to presidential elections? But then, after the 2000 election, America began to go in a direction which contradicted her own Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Who would want to be associated with such a country -- let alone swear allegiance -- under such conditions? It made me reflect on how often there is a dichotomy between the stated ideals and the observed actions of a country.

Historically, the United States is not alone in this. After the French Revolution, France passed their own "Declaration of the Rights of Man," but then proceeded to limit those rights, culminating in "the Terror" against its own citizens. Ireland (the country of my birth) has a centuries-long history of violence against (and by) those who are called "freedom fighters" or "domestic terrorists" -- depending on your perspective. I understand that there is a need to keep the general populace safe, which is a primary responsibility of any country's government. But when it is at the expense of all that is held dear -- human rights, freedom of expression, etc. -- is it really worth it?

Then the 2008 primary campaign started. The pool of candidates for both parties was so diverse and strong that I began to feel hopeful. I thought: maybe this is a country I can be proud of and stand up for. When Barack Obama was nominated on the Democratic side, I felt inspired and seriously thought about filling out the paperwork to become an American citizen. I then (even before Obama was elected) filled out my naturalization form, because I was hopeful.

Admittedly, some practical issues stalled me along the way. The application price went up significantly, and there was a mad rush to apply before this fee increase went into effect. The waiting period between applying and actually being sworn in grew to eighteen months. I kept putting it off -- until my green card (they're actually pink) only had six months to go before it expired. But the form to renew your green card is pretty much the same as the one to be naturalized, so I decided to go for it.

Happily, everything went smoothly. There are two tests you have to pass before being approved: an American civics test, and an English language exam. When you apply, they give you a booklet on U.S. history, civics, and geography, which has 100 questions and answers. You are asked by the examiner (during the oral test) up to ten randomly-chosen questions out of these 100, and you must answer six of these correctly. The English test is comprised of a one-sentence reading test, a one-sentence writing test, and talking to the examiner in English. For me (having grown up speaking English), the English parts were easy; but for new English speakers, I imagine it would be much more difficult. I am sure many eligible legal aliens are intimidated by the prospect of the interview and the test being in English -- as well as the high cost ($675) to apply -- although for some applicants, the English portion may actually be waived.

There is also the time lost from work. I am fortunate to have paid vacation days at my job, so that the three days I took off work (to get fingerprinted, for the interview/exam, and for the swearing-in ceremony) did not cost me anything, except a few sacrificed vacation days. But I am sure it is more of a consideration for many others.

Before I became a citizen of this country, I felt that I didn't have the right to comment on America's direction, since I was an outsider -- a mere observer. But now, I have a voice and a vote with which to try and improve the quality of life here in the United States. I am looking forward to participating in my first election, and also my first jury duty (since I've heard newly-minted citizens are called up as soon as the ink is dry on our naturalization certificates). While being a citizen gives me rights that cannot be taken away from me, it also comes with duties and responsibilities, which is why I will be proud to serve on a jury if called.

I am an American citizen. Now, I truly belong.


-- Mrs. Chris Weigant



[Editor's Note: For the curious, below I've copied out the Oath of Allegiance, and twenty of the sample questions from the civics test.]


The Oath of Allegiance all new citizens must swear:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.


Sample questions from the civics test (off the top of your head, how many of these can you accurately answer?):

(3)  The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?

(7)  How many amendments does the Constitution have?

(9)  What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?

(21)  The House of Representatives has how many voting members?

(23)  Name your U.S. Representative.

(31)  If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?

(40)  Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?

(48)  There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.

(51)  What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?

(61)  Why did the colonists fight the British?

(62)  Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

(64)  There were 13 original colonies. Name three.

(66)  When (what year) was the Constitution written?

(67)  The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.

(72)  Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s.

(79)  Who was President during World War I?

(88)  Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.

(91)  Name one U.S. territory.

(96)  Why does the flag have 13 stripes?

(98)  What is the name of the national anthem?


That was twenty questions. Scoring: (0-5) your citizenship should really be revoked; (6-10) you are ready to appear on Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" segment, where he ridicules uninformed passers-by; (11-15) you would easily qualify for citizenship, if given the test; (16-20) Ah! A regular reader of, I presume?

Here are the "official" answers, although variations you can defend are also acceptible:

(3)  "We the People"

(7)  27

(9)  The "unalienable" rights -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

(21)  435

(23)  Varies... but you'd be surprised how many people don't know this one.

(31)  Speaker of the House (currently) Nancy Pelosi

(40)  John Roberts

(48)  Citizens 18 and older can vote (XXVI), You don't have to pay a poll tax to vote (XXIV), Any citizen (of any sex) can vote (XIX), male citizen of any race can vote (XV)

(51)  Basically, anything in the Bill of Rights. The official answers: "freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government, freedom of worship, the right to bear arms."

(61)  Here are the official answers: "because of high taxes (taxation without representation); because the British army stayed in their houses (boarding, quartering); because they didn't have self-government.

(62)  Thomas Jefferson

(64)  New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.

(66)  1787

(67)  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, "Publius"

(72)  The War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, The Civil War, The Spanish-American War

(79)  Woodrow Wilson

(88)  Mississippi, Missouri

(91)  Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Marianas Islands, Guam

(96)  Official answers: "because there were 13 original colonies; (or) because the stripes represent the original colonies."

(98)  The Star-Spangled Banner


7 Comments on “Guest Author: Why I Decided To Become An American”

  1. [1] 
    slank wrote:

    Thank you Mrs. Chris, that was very informative. In order to become a citizen, you know more than most natural born Americans. Congratulations and happy voting.

  2. [2] 
    kevinem2 wrote:


    Which part of Ireland are you from? I'm curious; when my girlfriend and I were there in 1973, a gracious group of Catholic nurses and their boyfriends told me the ancestry of my last name was Northern Irish Protestant. This was in Belfast, and the horror stories those poor nurses could tell. They all just wanted the violence to end. I hope they're all OK, they couldn't have been kinder to a pair of naive 20 year old Canadians.

    I hope you write more in the future now that you've got your feet wet.

  3. [3] 
    bigdayqueen wrote:

    Congratulations, Mrs. Weigant. Welcome to citizenship in the great USA!!! Thank you for joining us.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm glad you decided to post about becoming a citizen and that you will become a regular around here and be a part of our fun debates.

    I had to chuckle a little, I must admit, at the part where you said that, as an outsider, you didn't feel you had the right to comment on the direction of America until you became a citizen. Okay, so I laughed out loud at that part...and thought its a good thing I don't feel so constrained! :-)

    Anyway, welcome aboard!

    Oh, by the way...nice flowers!

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ...just a note about my test score...I just managed, by the skin of my teeth, to sneak ahead of being qualified for no more than a jaywalking segment...I'm gonna have to start paying more attention around here.

    Maybe we could do the test again...same time next year with a new slate of questions so that I might redeem myself. :(

  6. [6] 
    Mrs. Chris Weigant wrote:

    Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement and congratulations - I really enjoyed writing the post.

    To Elizabeth Miller - The sample questions listed after my post were in fact the hardest out of the one hundred in the booklet.

    To Kevinem2 - I am from Dublin. I visted Belfast once and found everyone to be very friendly.

    Many thanks,
    Mrs. Chris

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    She's right. I picked the hardest questions I could find. The others were PATHETICALLY easy ("What is the name of the ocean off the East Coast of the United States?"). So don't feel too bad, I bet you would have passed with flying colors.



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