Green cards haven't been green for a long time. My first one was though.
1962. My new husband, a new doctor in physics, has convinced me that a post-doc year in Chicago will be the crowning glory of his education. "It's just for a year", he says. Pregnant with my first child and having recently made the transition from Belgian girlhood to young pregnant wifehood in England, I have no interest in crossing that ocean. But, believe me, you are at a real disadvantage pleading your case haltingly in a second language, offering the futile argument of preferring home and friends against climbing the ladder of scientific success. My own family reminds me that a wife's duty is to support her husband, and that a year soon passes. Ha!
Husband does all the paper work; I just sign where necessary, completely unaware that I am applying for permanent residency. I have never heard of the "brain drain". I am fed information on a needed basis only and trust that nothing important is withheld. While I believe we are on the same page, we are not even in the same scenario.
Soon before departure, we are summoned to the American embassy for a group ceremony to take an oath facing the flag. A small girl stands by me. She points at the eagle glaring over the huge American flag as her high-pitched voice pierces the respectful silence, "Look at that big parrot, Mum!" A wave of laughter is soon suppressed by the glaring bureaucrat in charge. We mumble our promise not to misbehave or cause harm to the United States of America, and I am handed that all-important
3 1/4"x2 1/2" piece of plastic which will redefine my life path.
November 13th, 1962. I rise early from my berth on the lowest level of the Queen Mary to stand on deck in the frigid morning as we sail past the Statue of Liberty. New York looks grey and uninviting but I try to feel the same excitement as my husband's. In time, I come to understand why we traveled on one-way passages, what the green card really means, that my child will be American whether I want it or not, and that selected pieces of the truth can and do amount to a lie.
September 30th, 2008. This time, I know what I am doing. I am tired of being challenged by immigration officers, of being taxed without representation, of this terrible government, of seeing my grandchildren's future imperiled. Two days short of my 70th birthday, I surrender my (now white) green card with its fancy hologram and electronic chip. For a moment I feel insecure, defenseless.
Then, along with a diverse array of like-minded people, hand on heart, I repeat the pledge, collect my certificate of naturalization, and drive straight to the Obama Headquarters to register to vote. It's 10 a.m., my legal status has changed but I feel just the same as ever. At home and not.
I'd love to show you but . . .