I am the most annoying Jamaican on the planet — unless you’re Jamaican yourself, of course. I never shut up about Jamaica. I have a whole category on my blog, dedicated to Jamaica. I tweet about Jamaica. I have the flag in all my social media handles that allow special characters. Everything I experience in America, I draw a parallel with my homeland to see how that experience may have differed there. And, nothing gives me greater joy than making fun of my own culture, the things we say, the things we do, and why, as I did in:
Even so, I don’t just shout how amazing Jamaica is from the roof tops. I have been as open about our economic struggles as our culture of inclusiveness. Sometimes I am praising feminism in our culture and other times I am calling us out on our homophobia. That is real, unconditional love and patriotism. It is loving your country for what it is, not what it pretends to be.
Making a Tough Call
When I first came here, living in America and being American was not my intention. I had given up my life as I knew it to pursue a dream of vagrancy and glamourous homelessness.
Even after I began my paperwork for residency, citizenship was never on my mind. At my interview, the officer who handled my case told me:
You have the same rights as an American citizen, except for the fact that you cannot vote and will not receive a U.S. passport. However, your green card acts as a U.S. passport in the sense that it provides access to the same countries our passport does.
This was my status under the Obama administration. A lot has changed since then. At the time, I laughed it off and decided I wasn’t too keen on voting anyway, so I would skip the citizenship and enjoy the travel freedom. Residency was fine by me.
Then came the next administration, and a lot of the rights I had were stripped away from me. Immigrants across America feared to lose their legal status and pursued citizenship in droves. I had family members and friends among them. Some successfully completed the process before the new president took office, while others did not.
I remained on the fence and since I wouldn’t be eligible until June 2019, I didn’t see why I needed to make any rushed decisions. Still, my family repeatedly asked me if I didn’t plan to apply for citizenship. I fielded these questions with everything from a shrug to I’m thinking about it. Then one day, I said, I would.
For Love or Fear
Even up until February of this year, I remained hesitant about applying for citizenship. After attending my mother’s naturalisation ceremony, I left with more doubts than answers. The oaths were very serious words.
There were promises in that oath that unsettled me. I spoke to a U.S.-born family member about it. “I don’t know if I can take that oath,” I told him. “I don’t know if I can say those words.”
The family member laughed. “They are just words,” he said. “Everybody has to say them.”
But, I didn’t think of them as just words. They were big, powerful, strong words and I wasn’t sure I could mean them. I thought about those words for days, but I spoke to no one else about it. I started to question whether I would go through with applying for citizenship after all.
Why not just wait on the new green card and remain a resident? So, I changed my mind again. The next time I got asked when I was going to apply for citizenship, I said I didn’t know and that I felt more motivated by fear than patriotism.
The Turning Point
During this time of the year, I had also been looking into purchasing property. As I searched in Georgia, I became more and more frustrated. If we moved closer to the city, the houses became too expensive. If we moved too far from the city, I might just get lynched.
While I fussed over properties, other issues arose. Anti-immigration policies, gun laws and women’s rights took the forefront in the news and everyday conversations. Georgia brought things to a head when it introduced the Heartbeat bill. Put simply, I began to feel unsafe.
Around this time, I also took on a new client that needed content written for law firms all across the United States and even in Canada. I mostly wrote on new developments in governmental policies and their effects on individuals.
Over time, I started to receive more and more assignments for law firms in New York and out west. While other law firms were more focused on family law and car crashes, the firms I wrote for in these states focused on issues like immigration policies, LGBTQ rights, racial discrimmination, gender biases and maternal rights.
A pattern then emerged and I began to look more closely at America from the state-level. I also shifted my focus outside of Georgia. There are few things in Georgia I can be proud of, but there are parts of America that are consistently doing great things.
That was the turning point for me. That was the point when I began to see America as I had seen it when I first came here: a country full of promise and opportunity and freedom — if you choose where you live wisely.
“I’m going to apply for my citizenship,” I told my family without fear or reservation this time. “I made up my mind.”
Completing the Deed
When I became elligible for a citizenship application in June, I contacted my lawyer and told him I was ready to begin the process. Two days later, I submitted all requested documents.
“I have the money set aside for this already,” I told him, “so I would rather get it out of the way, even though it won’t make a difference until they renew my green card in 2020.”
He told me he understood but shelved my request. Meanwhile, a friend of mine filed her citizenship paperwork at the exact time of her eligibility. Four months later, she received her green card and citizenship interview requests in one. Apparently, in Georgia, they are now processing the requests simultaneously.
Armed with this information, I texted him to let him know that I wanted to go ahead and file everything now. A month and a half had passed by then. I expected another delay, but he stayed up until 3AM, ensuring everything was filed and submitted accurately on August 13th.
The Most Annoying American
Yesterday, I received an important letter in the mail from USCIS. It was not the letter I would have liked to receive, but it nonetheless confirmed that the ball was rolling again. It was my receipt for the $725 filing fee for my citizenship paperwork. Yes; this very annoying Jamaican is about to become American — I think.
I don’t know that my request will be accepted. I have no idea if the green card renewal I applied for more than a year ago will be accepted either. Immigrants now live in a time where we have no faith in the system and these fees we pay are just a gamble to see what happens next.
What I do know is that if I receive citizenship, I will be the most annoying American on the planet. As I’ve said before, true love and patriotism requires loving your country for what it is, not what it pretends to be. It also requires you to be a voluntary spokesperson for your nation, and Jamaicans have this down pat.
Having lost so many rights as a resident under the new administration, I know my life will change drastically. This is not just a card or a piece of paper. These are privileges and rights of which I can currently claim no part. I also realise that there are some states where this is worse than others.
That said, while I look forward to becoming an American citizen, I don’t want to be one in a state where venturing an hour from the city in the wrong direction could make me a target based on the colour of my skin. I want to be in a state that embraces America’s original motto, E pluribus unum. Ironically, the meaning is almost identical to Jamaica’s national motto: Out of many, one.