Citizen Pain is in da house

A production 24 years in the making… Citizen Pain! Yes, that’s how long I lived in the U.S. under work visas, then under spouse visas as a resident immigrant. Becoming American has never been something that appealed to me on an emotional level (I’m Canadian, I don’t have to fake it!)

But in recent years I have come to realize just how many rights which I thought applied to residents do in fact apply only to citizens: the right to legal representation, for example. And immigrants can get in trouble for a lot of legal activities, such as supporting civil rights groups, marching and protesting, or using certain privacy software like Tor or Signal. As my attorney and friend said, you can be right about the issue but you’ll still get in a mountain of trouble.

So this year I decided to bite the bullet, particularly since I was hoping to vote after over two decades of paying taxes. Unfortunately, a lot of immigrants had the same idea and my application, though sent in April, was not processed in time. But in the weeks since the horrible November 8 election, the Obama administration worked hard to child-proof the country, including processing as much of the immigration backlog as possible. It was my privilege to be sworn in today as a citizen, on the last tenure day of the president I admired so much.

The oath ceremony took place at the historic Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, and 1,240 new citizens from 91 countries were sworn in. (I understand that throughout the country, this week was a marathon of such events, thematically linked to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.) We were also able to apply for a U.S. passport and voter registration, so I took care of these items.

To be honest, the ceremony was a little odd, because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel are trying to be nice, joyful, congratulatory — and until this moment, none of us applicants have seen them be anything but suspicious, stern, and disengaged. As my friend Sean Nittner put it, it’s like having the Department of Motor Vehicles throw you a party! Also, when they were listing the 91 countries of origin, they forgot Canada. Dudes!

After the ceremony and various paperwork, we moved next door to Tiera Mia Coffee for our first caffeine of the day. We took a table in a corner and were having a nice conversation between my husband Edmund, my friends Sean and Dorene, and me, waiting for another friend, Marc, to join us. But then a weird incident happened.

First, this tall guy approached our table and just loomed over us, staring at Sean who asked if everything was okay. The guy said yes, still glaring; Sean gave a few polite words (something like “Good, I’m glad. You have a good day, now.”) It was said in his typical courteous way, didn’t sound snarky in the least. The guy went back to his table and we forgot about the incident.

Then maybe 30 minutes later, he got up, marched to our table and shoved his sandwich (and knuckles) in Sean’s face, then flipped our table in Sean’s lap! Cups and plates went flying, we were splashed and so were our table neighbours, and we all jumped to our feet yelling “What the hell! Why did you do that?” Without answering, the guy spat in Sean’s face, twice! Then he grabbed his skateboard and stomped off, never explaining himself.

The cafe manager called the police and a couple of officers showed up a few minutes later, took down the stories, and viewed the cafe’s surveillance camera footage. The best we can guess is that it was a case of mistaken identity; the guy did not give the vibe of someone looking to pick a fight with anyone, just with Sean.

After some cleaning up and new drinks, and telling the whole story to our friend Marc, we moved a couple of blocks up the street to Agave Uptown, an Oaxacan restaurant where I had made a lunch reservation. Happily, we encountered no further weirdness, and all felt like we had had enough for a while.

As a newly minted registered voter, I plan to keep the phone red-hot with calls to political representatives. Until now my opinion has never mattered; if you’re not a registered voter, your signatures and calls don’t count. But I do plan on being counted now. And I know calls are much more effective than form letters and Internet petitions. So I will use my new citizenship, oh yes I will.

Day 18, Cycle 5: Waterworks

The scarf is from Ysharros.
The scarf is from Ysharros.

Today I had a biometrics appointment at the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services as part of the naturalization process. That means fingerprinting and photo, again. When I got to the USCIS office I pointed out that I’d just been there in March to get the very same for my green card renewal, and was told “Oh, that’s a completely different department!” (Same place, same few people, same equipment, I swear it was in fact the very same machine!)

Then the (very nice) technician asked me to take off my scarf.

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it coming.

I asked to keep it but no, no head coverings of any sort on USCIS photos. And I started crying.

I couldn’t stop, I just kept weeping through the entire process. They had a hell of a time with my fingerprints too, because the skin of my hands has peeled off entirely and the new skin is very smooth. (The skin of my soles peeled too, by the way. All of it.) And all throughout, I’m bald and tearing up.

The personnel was very nice (they must be contractors? When the agency was INS, the personnel was awful.) It’s not their fault, there are the requirements, plain in black and white. I was embarrassed I’d made them uncomfortable. And I don’t know why I wasn’t braced for this. Maybe because I’m getting weaker through the chemotherapy process; this time, I was very tired all throughout, even now when I am at top recovery. Low red blood cell and platelet counts, you see.

Since I walked out of there I have been feeling embarrassed, ashamed on the street and at the store when we stopped on the way back for some grocery. I felt I should be hiding.

I really hadn’t seen this coming.

Life-long Learning

My science fiction and fantasy class ends this week.  Even though I had accumulated the grades to earn the certificate three weeks ago, I did all ten weeks of readings, essays, and peer reviews because, after all, learning itself is more real than certificates.  I’ve registered for a number of additional online classes throughout the year, since there are so many interesting and free choices.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been sprouting everywhere in the past year or so, but the logistics and economics of getting them to a point where they can start bringing in revenue to pay for themselves are problematic.  Open Culture had an interesting article on the topic a few days ago, The Big Problem for MOOCs Visualized.  In the mean time, I’m enjoying as many free classes as I can; who knows how long the experiment will last.  Anyone want to join me on any of these?

Smokestacks_3958I’m half-way through Property and Liability: An Introduction to Law and Economics, given by Dr. Richard Adelstein of Wesleyan University. It doesn’t make for great blog posts because the homework consists of online quizzes, and I’m too new at the topic to feel brash enough to ad-lib on the lectures.  However, the course is excellent and very well presented; I highly recommend it and will be looking out for more opportunities to hear Dr. Adelstein speak.

9_becoming_human_BIn a couple of weeks, the anthropology class Becoming Human begins, with Dr. Greg Downey of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.  It sounds fascinating and only lasts four weeks, with assignments consisting once again of online quizzes.

immigration-nologo-2A week later starts a class I registered for in order to get an update on official policies, Citizenship and U.S. Immigration.  The course is hosted by Dr. Polly J. Price of Emory University and lasts five weeks; I expect it’s going to be another relying on online quizzes.  I’m particularly interested in learning about recent, planned, and hoped-for immigration reform.

art10_logoA class I’m greatly looking forward to, yet dread a little, starts in late May: Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques, with Professor Anna Divinsky of PennState.  This one actually requires that we create art pieces and upload scans or photos to the class Website, to be critiqued and discussed; media used will include graphite pencils, charcoal, pastels, ink, watercolour, acrylic paint, and collage.  So for seven weeks, this will probably be the activity I’m most interested in and talk about all the time.

Flag-raising-on-Iwo-JimaIn June starts another class I’m eagerly awaiting, The Camera Never Lies with Dr. Emmett Sullivan of the University of London International Programmes.  This six-weeks course is an introduction to use of photographs as historical evidence in the twentieth century, issues of authenticity and manipulation, and the place of film and historical adoptions as public history.

fury_millsFinally, in October I’ll be taking Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers with Dr. Jeannene Przyblyski of the California Institute of the Arts: “Explore art history from the artist’s perspective. Learn how contemporary artists, animators and gamers work from the art of the past as part of their creative process, while building your own skills in visual analysis and creative and critical thinking.”  Assessment will be a combination of peer-reviewed sketchbook exercises and online quizzes.