Citizen came: After 20 years, Ojai woman joins
By Jay Ford Cullis
After living in this country
for 20 years as a permanent resident, Serena Whitcomb's choice
to become a United States citizen had less to do with the American
dream, and more to do with the annoyances world travelers often
"Everyone has their own reasons," she said a few days
after her final round of naturalization. With citizenship and
a U.S. passport, now, she said, "I don't have to be questioned
at the airport."
Whitcomb came to this country from Lebanon with her family when
she was 5 years old. Her experience thereafter was not unlike
most American childhoods.
"I have no remembrance of Lebanon," she said stressing
the differences between her experience and that of most of the
foreigners who completed the process last Friday in the Los Angeles
Convention Center. Whitcomb's perspective gives light to a process
that thousands of people undergo every day in this country, yet
millions more will never know.
A 10-page application starts the process, with a variety of questions
regarding the applicant's past history.
"If you have complicated paperwork, like a name change,"
said Whitcomb, "you might need a lawyer."
Though the hassles might be less, the choice is more costly.
With the help of Catholic Charities, Whitcomb paid only $350,
while a friend went through the internet and paid $600. A lawyer
means hundreds of more dollars, but many have no choice, she
Her application accepted, Whitcomb was then fingerprinted - one
of the less appealing parts of the process.
"They had examiners who looked at every line of the fingerprint,"
Whitcomb said. "If all the lines weren't clear they did
Next came an examination of five to 10 questions chosen randomly
from a list of 100 that every applicant can study before his
or her test.
"What are the colors of the flag? What makes up Congress?
What are changes to the Constitution called?" Whitcomb said,
reciting some of the questions she was asked.
"The guy was trying to trick me, going really fast,"
she said, laughing. "This was stuff I learned in high school."
For many of the applicants, though, the questions are some of
the most complicated she or he will ever have to answer. Translators
were made available and used extensively at all stages of the
process, in a great variety of languages, Whitcomb said. While
the applicant "must be able to read, write, speak and understand
words in English," according to the U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services Web site, there is no requirement of language
Finally, upon passing the examination, applicants are allowed
to take an oath of allegiance.
"The place looked like a refugee camp," Whitcomb said
of the Convention Center during the ceremony. "They brought
in a judge and the place became a courtroom for a day."
Everyone repeated the oath, President Bush congratulated the
crowd in a videotaped message, and Lee Greenwood's "Proud
to Be an American" accompanied the new citizens as they
made their ways out to tearful, cheering families. "It was
like an airport terminal, families jumping up and down - for
a lot of people it's a very big deal."
The hardships of the process may be an inconvenience for someone
like Whitcomb, who has always called the United States home.
But for many, citizenship was an accomplishment worth celebrating.
"They can never be taken back to the places they wanted
to get away from," Whitcomb said.
The Ojai Valley News
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