American by choice

Deciding to become a naturalized citizen took time

"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."

Nina Eduljee

Psychology professor Dr. Nina Eduljee grew up in Bombay, India. She and her husband, also a native of Bombay, came to graduate school in the United States and have lived here for 23 years. She became an American citizen last July.

Saying these words, my husband and I were pronounced American citizens.

I must confess that the profound words of the Oath of Allegiance had me choking up. I was seated in the front row, and I was desperately trying to hide the tears that were welling up in my eyes. This was a huge moment for me.

For the past 10 years, my husband and I had been eligible to become citizens. Friends and family kept coaxing us toward citizenship, but somehow we were not motivated enough. We were content being Green Card holders. We had all the rights and privileges afforded to any other American - and we did feel like Americans. The only things missing were the fact that we could not join the military and we could not vote. At first, these privileges did not seem to be a concern.

Whenever we traveled internationally, we always were welcomed "back home" by the immigration officers. Each time it gave me goose bumps. Still, we didn't see any reason to change our status.

By 1997, we had demonstrated five years of good standing as Green Card holders and became eligible to apply for citizenship. However, it was 1999 before we first considered applying. The national elections were approaching, and everybody was talking about them. I had never cast a single vote in any election in India or the United States, and the voting issue was starting to weigh heavily on me.

Politically aware by nature, I found myself engaged by local and federal elections. I read up on local referendums, I had an opinion on every question and gave it freely. I was frustrated about not being able to vote, yet I was not ready to change. I justified it by saying that voting happened once every four years, and I was all right not doing it. After all, I was doing my part by encouraging my students and others to vote. But I vividly remember feeling awkward at lunch one day when everyone was discussing politics: After all - as one faculty member innocuously mentioned - I was not a citizen, and my views on presidential elections were somewhat irrelevant.

I woke up on Friday morning to see the most magnificent sight. My neighbor's son and his friend had made a pathway for us to walk down, lined with American flags.

In 2001, my husband and I took the first step to obtain the citizenship forms and started filling them out. The only thing missing at the time were our photographs. From 2002 to 2006, we went back to the forms every year and updated them, yet we took no serious action. In 2006, when we realized that we could apply for dual citizenship, things suddenly became a lot clearer. (We had never wanted to give up our Indian citizenship because of emotional ties to the place where we were born and raised.)

n 2007, we gave ourselves an ultimatum - now or never. We went back to update the forms and were dismayed to find out the forms had changed!

By March 2007, we mailed everything in. I was amazed at the efficiency of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) - three weeks later we were called in to get fingerprinted. The next step was the final interview, scheduled for early May. I think the INS must have had my teaching schedule somewhere on file - both the fingerprinting and final interview were scheduled during class time. I reshuffled classes and had colleagues teach a class for me - I had learned quickly that when INS assigns you a time, you better be there.

Nina and husband

Nina and husband become American citizens

The last hurdle of the interview was cleared, and our swearing-in ceremony was set for Friday, July 27, 2007. The two weeks waiting for the citizenship ceremony were agonizing because of the anticipation. I felt that the day would never come. Luckily, we had family spending the week with us, so that made things easier. But Thursday night did seem surreal, because I was an Indian citizen and, in a few hours, all that would change.

I woke up on Friday morning to see the most magnificent sight. My neighbor's son, Henry, and his friend, Ross, had made a pathway for us to walk down, lined with American flags.

At 9:05 a.m., we were naturalized as American citizens and welcomed to the United States. We went to our town office on Monday, filled out our voter registration and applied for U.S. passports. We are dual citizens, and I can tell you that I am lucky to have the best of both worlds.

I cast my first vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007. My only regret is that I did not become a citizen earlier.

Can you answer these questions about the U.S.?

To gain citizenship, applicants must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly during a required interview. First, they are given a booklet of 96 questions, from which 10 are chosen. They range from answering the number of Supreme Court justices to naming your senators to explaining who Martin Luther King is.

Here are 10 "easy" questions:

1. What are the colors of our flag?
2. How many stars are there in our flag?
3. What do the stars on the flag mean?
4. How many states are there in the Union?
5. Who is the President?
6. What do the stripes mean?
7. What is the White House?
8. Where is the White House located?

Here are some "difficult" ones:

1. Who elects the President of the United States?
2. How many changes or amendments are there to the Constitution?
3. What is the Bill of Rights?
4. Can you name the 13 original colonies?
5. What countries were our enemies during World War II?
6. Where does Freedom of Speech come from?
7. What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
8. What is the introduction to the Constitution called?
9. What amendments deal with the right to vote?
10. Name the right guaranteed by the First Amendment?

Note: Professor Eduljee says many of her students and her friends had a hard time answering these questions!
All 100 questions that need to be studied about the U.S.

by Nina Eduljee