New York Magazine

America Is Still the Future

A love letter to my new country.

BY THE TIME the court opened, there were around two dozen of us in line, nervously fiddling with our official papers. I was recovering from a brief but brutal stomach flu, which meant I hadn’t eaten in two days and had split open my lip in a mad, half-asleep rush to the bathroom two nights before. Ashen-white, I looked like I’d just been punched in the face.

They gave us all a number, handed us a packet, and instructed us not to take photographs after the judge walked in. A man in a shiny suit proceeded to entertain us intermittently for half an hour with some almost-funny jokes. And then, at long last, the judge walked in, we all stood up, and it began. Judge Mehta told us this was his favorite part of the job, and that he had immigrated to the U.S. from India as a child. A few weeks before, my naturalization interview had been with a man with an Arabic last name—and a Redskins helmet on his cabinet. Standing around me now, my fellow newbie Americans came from all over the world: Iran, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Canada, among other countries. Only two of us, as I recall, were white.

I had waited 32 years for this moment. My own immigration journey had been long and gradual and winding—and this day, I hoped, would be a day to savor, an emotional upswelling, a final untying of so many knots of feelings that had crowded my psyche since I’d first arrived here.

But it was also December 1, 2016. A few weeks before, an election had taken place that had capped more than a year of gnawing, deepening anxiety in my gut. To become a citizen now was, for me, a final act of faith; but it was also like stepping into an elevator expecting to go up and then suddenly sinking. There was joy here, shot through with nausea.

My number was called, and I found myself walking shakily up to the bench to receive my Certificate of Naturalization. It came with a little flag, which I waved at my husband and friends as I walked back to my seat. Then came the oath. Suddenly, this modern, multicultural scene reverted right back to the nation’s founding. “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen …” And then the other peculiar oath, which I’d always heard but never uttered, let alone memorized. I placed my right hand on my left lapel and recited from a card: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

There was a reception—with a promise of tequila!—but I had to get home to bed. After a little soup, I curled up under the covers and passed out.

I REMEMBER THE STRANGE moment when my infatuation with America began.

Having just turned 21 years old, I was grappling with the first weeks of graduate school in a new country, and on the subway in Boston. Simply a chaotic afternoon ride, crammed into a tram car, hurtling through a labyrinth of confusing stations. Around me was a world far away from the spires of Oxford University, from which I’d graduated a few months before. A sea of different-colored faces surrounded me amid what seemed near-tropical heat and humidity: a squalling baby, giggling schoolgirls, and a seated construction worker with concrete-dusted boots, his red, grizzled Irish face staring out the window into the brick blackness. I was on my way to buy a rug for my new dorm room and getting more than a little lost. But the lostness, it came to me, now had something of a thrill to it. No one here knew me or anything about me. Nothing had followed me from my small-town home or my provincial English high school or my grooming for the British elite at Oxford. Thrown into a crowd of old and young, black and Asian and Latin and Irish and Italian, I found myself in a new world entirely, an ocean of polyglot anonymity, with a

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