A new and deeply meaningful rite of passage

Last night, Miss D. and I drove down to the DFW metroplex.  This morning, I’ll take the oath of allegiance and become a citizen of the United States of America.

It’s been a long journey to get here.  When I first became eligible to apply, after having held a permanent residence permit (the so-called “green card”) for five years, I was in the throes of medical treatment for a nasty injury suffered during my work as a prison chaplain.  That, and its (permanently partially disabling) consequences, took up all my time and attention for several years, as I worked to rebuild my life and get back on my feet.  (My books are a product of that experience.)  Applying for citizenship took a back seat to those painful realities.

When I met Miss D. in 2009, she encouraged me to pursue the matter, and after we married, I did so – only to run into a bureaucratic roadblock.  You see, the USCIS (which handles citizenship applications) wanted five years worth of tax returns, to prove I was paying my fair share towards our nation.  However, because my income had been workers-compensation-related for several years (and thus not taxable), I hadn’t met the minimum taxable income threshold that requires one to submit a tax return.  This did not satisfy USCIS, unfortunately – no tax returns, no citizenship!

I therefore approached the IRS and asked to file amended tax returns for the appropriate period, only to be told that this would be a waste of that agency’s time and resources (because I still wouldn’t owe any tax, after all), and therefore I should not do so.  Attempts to get the rival bureaucracies to talk to each other and sort out the problem were fruitless;  so I had to start all over again, filing taxes jointly with my wife and building up a new record as a taxpayer in that way.  (A big “Thank you!” to all of you who’ve bought my books, thereby giving me a taxable income once more!  In that sense, you’ve actively helped me become a citizen.)

When I filed a new application for citizenship, I was advised that the process would take a long time (years rather than months), due to a backlog of applications.  I resigned myself to a long wait.  It took more than a year before my interview came up, at which I was tested on my knowledge of US civics and other matters.  However, in the interim, a new system had been put into operation;  and when I passed the interview, I was advised that my naturalization ceremony would take place only a week later.  This was wonderful news.

Becoming a US citizen will be a very solemn, moving moment for me.  I take the oath of allegiance very seriously.  I’ve already sworn part of it when taking the oath of federal law enforcement office as a prison chaplain, well over a decade ago.  The citizenship ceremony will add to that an abjuration of any and all previous loyalties.  In that sense, it’ll be a final, formal, legal and official severing of my ties to South Africa, where I’d spent almost two-thirds of my life so far.

Over the past few days, ever since learning that US citizenship was imminent, I’ve found myself haunted by the memories of my friends in South Africa who did not survive the terrible civil conflict that led to democracy in that country in 1994.  (I’ve written of them, and of that time, here, and in several other articles.)  It may be whimsical of me, but it feels as if many of their shades will be keeping me company as I swear the oath of allegiance.

I think that perhaps one can be a more dedicated citizen of the USA if one comes to it from outside, as it were:  jumping through all the legal and administrative hoops, having to earn the right to be assimilated into a new country and a new culture, rather than born to it.  I’ve tried hard to assimilate already.  I don’t want to hold on to past loyalties and be what Theodore Roosevelt would have called a “hyphenated American”.  In a speech to the Knights of Columbus in New York on October 12, 1915, he said:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts “native” before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else.

The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic. The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.

That’s the kind of American I shall strive to be.  Thank you, all my American friends, for welcoming me to your country, and adopting me into your national family.  Today is a very special day for me.

Blogging will be light for the rest of the day.  I’ll post something late this afternoon, if I get home in time;  otherwise, look for more posts tomorrow morning.



  1. Congratulations! By your writings, you've been American for a long time already, but it's good to make it official and get the vote.

  2. Welcome! And you are correct in my opinion. My wife is naturalized from a country with very few civil liberties and you would be hard pressed to find anyone as protective of those rights.

  3. I too welcome you to Amercan citizenship. My wife is a naturalized citizen from Cuba and she too has lived an “American “ life to the fullest.

  4. As several have said, congratulations, and welcome aboard!

    As a side note, your experience with federal bureaucracy has prepared you for American citizenship about as well as your studies of our history and government.

  5. Welcome! If only those "born here" would take as seriously the commitment as those who have chosen to "come here".

  6. For some reason, I thought you had already gone through the process. None the less, I will add my voice to those welcoming you as a citizen of the USA.

  7. Good man… …welcome aboard the wonderful U S of A… …I lived in South Africa from 1979 to 1982 while working on Sasol II… to bad that time and state is gone… …loved the wine, avocados and angus, and brias… and my black and white friends… …I had the honor of being known by my Zulu friends as "Encosi"…

  8. Allow me to add my welcome as well. Congratulations! If you ever find yourself in Eastern Kentucky, come on by and I'll fix you some supper!

  9. Allow me to add my congratulations!

    I know of no bigger opponents of open borders than people who have gone through the tribulations of the legal immigration system.

  10. The world is full of Americans. Not all of them were fortunate enough to be born here, but I'm always happy when another one finds his way home at last.


  11. Fantastic! I also thought that you had already become a naturalized citizen, but let me join in welcoming you home.

  12. Good for you, Sir.
    Also good for your wife and her nudging.
    Now, fictionalize the beating you had to take from the gatekeepers (eg: Jerry Pournelle setting history to Futurized Science Fiction). It'll be an easy write for you, it will be a best seller.

    Again, Good for you, and Welcome.

    Rich in NC

  13. But Peter I always take great pleasure in naming you as one of my two favorite African Americans.
    The other is Charlise Theron, her because she's cute and you because you aren't.

  14. Congratulations! I am reminded of the stories my Grandfather told of his trials and tribulations between the time he entered, passing the Statue of Liberty as literally one of the 'tired huddled masses' between WWI and WWII, and when he took his oath of citizenship.

  15. Congratulations, and welcome, Peter!

    One of my South Korean friends who became a US citizen told me it was one of the happiest days in his life.

    And we need your wisdom and experience!

  16. Congratulations to you, a brand new Citizen of the United States of America. A fellow traveler, if you will.

    Now, go get your voter's registration card, we need the likes of you.

  17. Congratulations, and welcome! It's too bad that it took so long, but that's behind you now. Even if you couldn't quite claim to be American before now, I think you dropped the hyphenation a long time ago. America is an ideal as much as a physical country, and in that sense you've been an American for a long time. Now, it's official across the board!

  18. Congratulations! My wife is naturalized as is one of my daughter-in-laws. I like to say I got an import model >)

  19. Congratulations and thank you for your contributions: previous and continuing.

    A couple of years ago we welcomed a new citizen into our family.
    She reported to me that when asked if she would bear arms in defense of the nation that she responded, proudly, with an emphatic, "Yes!"
    I heard that question is no longer asked.
    If that is true it does not bode well for our nation.

  20. @waepnedmann: The question is still asked, and your affirmative reply is still required as part of the Oath of Allegiance. Not all of the old values have been discarded.

  21. Congratulations and best wishes. From reading your Ames series many times, I think that you have had American values for a long time, and it shows in your writing.


  22. Congrats! But I must warn you like I did my neighbor from mexico that became a citizen.."Now they know where your at"…

  23. I had no idea you were an illegal alien.

    Just kiddin'. Congratulations! Now you have a gubmint stamp saying you are officially an American, as opposed to actually being one for lo these many years. All kidding aside, that is saying something good about you.

  24. It has struck me that most naturalized citizens value our nation more than many native Americans… They have a frame of reference, and value the differences… Not that we are perfect,by any means. Welcome aboard, Peter!

  25. Those who take marriage vows, especially after a long and costly betrothal, value the relationship more than couples who just shack up together

    May this union prove fruitful and faithful.

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