Friday June 6, 2008 was a very special day for my Romanian-French
friend, Sorin. On that day we crossed the Cuyahoga River traveling the
Detroit -Superior bridge and briefly passed the very tall, impressive
building called the 8th District Courthouse where he soon would enter as
an alien resident and come out a bright, spanking new American citizen.
We had done a dry run before because neither of us knew where this
impressive building was. I knew where Cleveland City Hall was because I
worked there for 20 years. I knew where the Cuyahoga County Administration Building was because I had gone there for property information and that's where I will shortly be sending payment for my property taxes. But the 8th District Courthouse? Hadn't a clue. Well, we found it and found a place to park the car as well. But crossing the street at a busy fork in the road was daunting. The pedestrian light never flashed on as we waited and waited and waited. I asked a passing lady about this and she suggested we jay walk! Good idea. I think we would still be on that corner had we not. Yes, I think I should write either the Traffic Commission and/or the 8th District courthouse about this.
Well once in, my purse went through the conveyor belt and someone swung a wand around me. Yes, things had changed in government buildings ever since McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma Federal Building.
We went down the stairs to a not very large auditorium room. I was disappointed because soon it filled up and people were standing along the sides. Why, couldn't they limit this auspicious occasion to around 50 people though maybe that was the number being sworn in today - but with family and friends - the room swelled disportionately to make this event, in my mind, a little disappointing.
Then the checking of credentials. That done, the judge made his appearance, and the alien residents were asked to rise from their seats and be sworn in. Finally, they were called one by one and received their citizenship papers. I missed the magic moment on camera for Sorin, but I did get him as he passed the judge and was being congratulated by a representative of Senator Voinovich.
I was very happy for all the new Americans - especially for Sorin. He has been such a wonderful friend and now I was glad that America had finally embraced him as a citizen after 5 long years. As for the ceremony itself I was surprised and disappointed that the Star Spangled Banner was not sung, nor was the Pledge of Allegiance made. Were they cutting corners or has this never been part of the ceremony? Another thing to ask about and I will.
All during this time I harkened back in my mind to either the 30's or 40's when my Slovak father had studied to become a citizen. I have his little citizenship manual and I was able to pin-point approximately when he was studying for his auspicious moment. He had written down the names of the different officials and the Director of Safety at the time was Elliot Ness. He served as Director of Safety from 1935 to 1942. So I was 5 - 12 years old when my father and probably myself were both going to "school."
I admired him because Slovak was his mother tongue, but obviously he had mastered enough English to study for the test. Even though my parents sometimes conversed in Slovak at home, I never quite learned the language to my present disappointment. My elder sister was held back a grade because her English was so poor. Today she doesn't know a word of Slovak! Well, maybe a couple of words.
Lastly, I have been re-reading some Guidebooks and in the July issue was the very inspiring story of 18-year-old Robert G. Heft of Lancaster, Ohio. When in school in 1958, the teacher challenged the students to come up with an original project. Robert decided that because Alaska was soon to be admitted to the Union, and he believed that Hawaii would soon follow, he would design a new 50-star state flag.
His mother was horrified when she saw him cut off the blue field from their flag and refused to help him sew on a new blue field. So, he went to the department store and bought some comparable blue material and some white stick-on material for the stars. How enterprising of this young man! He got to work sewing the blue field onto the flag -- using his mother's treadle sewing machine. Then he traced and cut out 100 white stars
which he pasted---50 on one side and 50 on the other side of the blue field.
Imagine after all that hard work, his project only merited a B-. Disappointed, he let his teacher know that his project was deserving of a better grade. The teacher jokingly said that if Congress would accept his design he would change his grade.
Robert accepted the challenge and he happened to know a Congressional Representative who lived in Lancaster and promptly went to his home. The Congressman was impressed and promised he would deliver his design to the selection committee. Gen. Eisenhower was president at the time. And sure enough - in 1949 Alaska came into the fold and Hawaii followed in 1950. By then Robert had graduated high school and was employed.
Someone came to him saying a Congressman was on the phone wishing to speak to him. Yes, they had accepted his design. Two other people had sent in the same design but his was the first to be presented! You can well imagine his pride and joy everytime he sees Old Glory -- remembering that a school assignment was the catalyst for this wonderful honor.
And you can imagine the pride and joy of Sorin, my father, and all the new Americans after they administered their oath of allegiance to the United States of America. I asked Sorin why some of the people who were elderly felt the need to become citizens. How would it benefit them? He said they could now vote, they could now apply for passports and, of course, they could now enjoy all the privileges of being an American that people like me take for granted.