“That’s quite an oath,” my ol’ buddy Lamar said. We were seated in the Mesa Arts Center. We were there to watch Juanita’s niece Carla participate in a naturalization ceremony in which she would become a U.S. citizen.
It was a Saturday morning, one of those balmy Chamber of Commerce days in the Valley, if you didn’t notice the brown haze obscuring South Mountain.
The theatre was spacious and comfortable, but intimate, too. The naturalization oath was projected on a screen above the stage. As an official from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service was explaining the proceedings, Lamar and I had silently read the oath. I caught myself moving my lips once or twice.
“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 a citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
I read the oath again. “Yes,” I said. “That is a serious oath.”
“Interesting word, ‘potentate,’” Lamar said. “I didn’t know there were any potentates left these days.”
“What’s a potentate?”
Lamar shrugged and used his phone to search for the definition. “Monarch,” he said.
We sat in silence as the ceremony began. The government official announced that one hundred and thirty-five applicants from thirty-nine countries would become U.S. citizens at the ceremony. The roll call of countries was called and the applicants from those countries stood.
“Bhutan? Yemen?” Lamar repeated.
“All that way to become an American citizen?” I said.
Lamar nodded. “That oath is pretty specific,” he said. “Would you take it?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You were born here,” Lamar said. “You’re an American by birth. If the government asked you to take that oath, would you?”
“I might, if the government asked nicely,” I said.
Lamar arched an eyebrow. “Otherwise,” he said, “You wouldn’t take the oath?”
We were whispering at the time, but events on the stage brought us back to the ceremony.
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me . . .”
Later, outside, Lamar said, “You were saying?”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “Yes, I suppose I would take the oath ‘freely,’ but not because the government ‘asked’ me to take it. A healthy skepticism toward ‘government’ is as American as apple pie.”
Carla and her family joined us outside. She beamed with unfettered pride. She was a United States citizen.
“Who wants pie?” I said.