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Anticipating the Dream

Student Model Print

Michelle (grade 11) develops this eyewitness account by answering the “5 W’s and H” about her parents becoming American citizens. The writer also shares her sensory impressions.

Anticipating the Dream

“And we are scatterlings of Africa

On a journey to the stars

Far below we leave forever

Dreams of what we were.”

—Johnny Clegg

I am sitting with my grandparents in the spectators’ section of the echoing auditorium, my baby brother on my lap. I’m not sure what I expected this morning, but thus far it has been an incredibly boring experience. The judge is half an hour late, and to add to that, Graeme, my brother, is tired and fussing, and would evidently much prefer his mother’s lap to mine. Unfortunately for him, my parents and older brother are sitting on the other side of the room with almost 200 others. Thirty-one countries are represented here today.

This is a citizenship ceremony. My parents, my older brother, and I were all born in South Africa. After living in the United States for 13 years, they are finally becoming citizens. I am not yet 18; consequently, I have to wait for my parents to obtain citizenship before I am eligible. All my younger siblings were born here, and are therefore Americans by birth.

Graeme was only momentarily distracted by the book we brought along to amuse him. He is now struggling noisily to climb off my lap. It’s time to bring out the secret weapon: candy. I just hope my supply doesn’t dwindle too quickly.

In our particular situation, it seems rather odd that the citizenship process works this way. Having lived here since I was two, I have always been more American than anything else. I don’t speak Afrikaans, but my parents do (as well as English). I am the one who briefed my mother on American history and government before she took the citizenship test. Not only that, but I am always having to remind my parents that the word is flashlight, not torch, and that here in America we have a tooth fairy, not a mouse, who comes to fetch our teeth. After today, my parents will be Americans, and I will be the unique one, the alien, the only South African remaining in our house. How bureaucratic of the American government to work that way.

The judge has arrived, and now that everyone has stopped talking, Graeme has started to cry. I make a hasty retreat up the slanted aisle to the back of the room. Maybe I can rock him to sleep.

I have often asked my parents why we moved here from our homeland, and from what I’ve gathered, there are several reasons. Foremost is apartheid, the total segregation of South Africa, whereby whites held all power and blacks were not even allowed to vote. The government established separate buses, bathrooms, even public lawns. My parents, who are by no means radical, were very strongly against apartheid and were arrested for protesting. They were released in the next moment because they were white, while their black friends were hauled off to jail. The atmosphere was growing more volatile every day, and when the building across the street from where my mother worked was bombed, my parents decided that it was no longer safe to stay, especially with two small children. Consequently, my father took advantage of the first opportunity to get a job here in America. It must be incredibly difficult to live in a country that is so immoral, where people are looked down upon simply because their skin happens to be a different shade. How can you pledge allegiance to a government responsible for the obvious evil around you every day? America was segregated at one point also, but at least the government called it “separate but equal.” In South Africa, the government did not even attempt to bring about equality. Can anyone take pride in a government like that?

Graeme is finally asleep, drooling on my shoulder, and I can return, victorious, to my seat. The judge has been giving a speech about the privileges and responsibilities that come with being an American citizen. I’m beginning to understand why my parents are so excited about this day. At first I expected nothing of great importance to occur in this ceremony. I imagined we would arrive here, say the Pledge of Allegiance, and my parents would receive a piece of paper declaring them “American citizens.” As it turns out, a lot more is involved than the mere title. Today my parents will not only become eligible to vote and serve on jury duty, but they will automatically become part of American history, culture, and society. The United States becomes their country, a land that kindles pride. All of a sudden, they have a duty to serve this country and to be loyal to it above all others. It is a colossal decision for them to make.

South Africa is a beautiful nation. My parents grew up there and have many fond recollections. They remember visiting game preserves and finding lions in the middle of the road. They remember going to school with their friends and tormenting substitute teachers. The different snacks they ate—biltong, Chappie gum, and Bovril—could never be found in the United States. My parents remember getting married in the city of Florida on February 2, 1980. I’m certain it must have been difficult to leave everything, including family, and move to America. Now, at this ceremony, everything is becoming finalized. They will no longer be a part of South Africa, but South Africa will always be a part of them. They have given up the past in anticipation of the future, one filled with hope for greater peace, prosperity, and happiness: the American Dream.

I scan the room, the many different faces of my fellow spectators: grandparents, parents, and children of various races. Anyone can read the pride in their eyes as they watch their loved ones from across the room. I snap to attention. People are rising. This is the moment; they are about to take the oath. Now I have grown just as excited as my parents seemed to be this morning. My mother’s smile tells me she is enjoying herself. Right hands raised, the would-be citizens repeat after the judge the words that will change their lives forever. Piles of paperwork and months of waiting are now fulfilled in a few simple words. As the final echoes of the judge’s words die out, I hardly hear his congratulations. One fact only is the focus of my thoughts: my parents and another brother are Americans. All my older brothers and my sister are Americans. Soon it will be my turn, and I can hardly wait.

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