When I was a kid, coming to “the States,” as we called it, was the shit. I mean, you guys had everything. I had never seen that many types of breakfast cereal in my short, Canadian life. The soda aisle alone blew my 9-year-old mind… PURPLE SODA? America the beautiful, indeed.
But other than those occasional Sunday family drives to Plattsburgh, New York—and the obligatory trip to Disney World, when I was 4—my primary exposure to the U.S. as I was growing up was via TV and the news. American presidents are so present and powerful when you live just next door. You almost feel as if they are your president, too.
But mostly, the States was just fine—like an annoying older brother, always around, obligated to protect you, much stronger than you, and a little less refined. I certainly had no grand plans to live there.
But, life intervenes: 25-year-old girl meets boy, decides to find a job in a different country, and moves there to see if it will all work out. In May of 2000, I moved to Brooklyn. New millennium, new country, and new life. Yay me!
Fast-forward 16 years to the Trump campaign. Even though I didn’t grow up in the States and there are definite gaps in my knowledge of American history, it was pretty apparent what he was serving up: classic white supremacist tropes, a side order of dog-whistled anti-Semitism (any ‘globalists’ in the house??), Islamophobia, horrendous fear-mongering about immigration, and then, of course, there’s the fact that he was straight out of the department of central casting for dictators. As a lawyer admitted to practice in two countries, I saw a sinister campaign to dismantle the systems that keep our leaders in check and our society free. As a mother and a woman, I saw disaster. And I thought he could never win.
The day of the election, after taking my two daughters to the corner of PRESIDENT and CLINTON streets in Brooklyn to capture a photo that was sure to be a lifelong keepsake celebrating our glass-ceiling-smashing first female POTUS, I settled in to watch the returns. I hadn’t voted; as a non-citizen, of course I wasn’t allowed to, and it felt terrible. But my husband was first in line when the polls opened. That was good enough, right?
Wrong. After spending that night crying I knew I wanted to do something. So, like many women, I went to D.C. to protest in January, the day after Trump’s inauguration and his bone-chilling inaugural address.
This was the first time in my life of almost unconscious privilege that I felt physically vulnerable and disempowered.
On the way to the women’s march I got scared. I realized if I were arrested for civil disobedience, I could be deported, unlike my fellow travelers who were American. Imagine the feeling: my husband and children are here in New York; our home, our life, our family is all here. Now imagine being separated from all of that for engaging in an act of protest. I felt that moment deeply, and knew also that that feeling was nothing compared with being in the U.S. illegally and and knowing you could be deported merely for the act of breathing on U.S. soil.
This was the first time in my life of almost unconscious privilege that I felt physically vulnerable and disempowered. Of course I understood that I was safer than some citizens who had different skin, different health insurance, and different disadvantages in this flawed country, but knowing I could get deported if I got arrested for civil disobedience—one of the most important tools for invoking societal change—was chilling. And now more than ever, protesting mattered to me.
This commitment to “do something” was solidified when I went to D.C. for the protests during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and had to stay in the lobby of the Hart Senate building—instead of occupying Mitch McConnell’s office, which was where I wanted to be—to ensure I didn’t get arrested.
It turns out my distaste for the current political situation far outweighed my distaste for filling out forms and getting my retina scanned, so I did both, and handed in my application to become a United States citizen last year.
Fast-forward again through all the continued outrage, the pain, the disgust, the chaos, the destruction of the federal judiciary, the travel bans, the misogyny and the hate, the family separations at the boarder, the corruption, the nepotism, the self-dealing, the sheer incompetence, to August 12, 2019.
That day, I was finally called in for my citizenship interview. I had hesitated to apply for citizenship for many reasons, but sitting in the interview waiting room at Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan, seeing the rainbow of people in the room, I was keenly aware that because of my skin color, national origin, and socio-economic strata, my journey to this day looked different than some of the other folks waiting with me. My mind turned to those languishing in federal facilities—how could it not? My journey wasn’t as much a journey as an appointment that I’d finally shown up for.
After going over a variety of biographical, professional, and personal information and taking a short U.S. civics test—there are 27 amendments to the Constitution and it was drafted in 1787, in case you were wondering—I was asked by the immigration officer why I waited so long to apply for citizenship, after having been a green-card holder for almost 2 decades.
I told him that Canada had sheltered and nurtured my Jewish family for 3 generations and that it was hard to seek citizenship from a different country. While that is true, there were other reasons, too—lack of LGTBQ equality, the politicization of women’s reproductive health, entrenched systemic racism etc. These differences with my home country had weighed on me throughout my years here.
In a moment of candor, I looked him in the eye and said that the time had come for me to participate in our democracy and vote. We held our stare for a long minute after I said that. He told me he was glad I would vote, that the world had changed a lot. I assured him I would never skip an election.
In that moment, I realized that applying for citizenship was itself an act of political protest. Perhaps my first as an American, or maybe my last as a green card holder who wanted to have her voice heard in a more meaningful way. My naturalization ceremony is on Thursday morning. I’ll be registering to vote at the courthouse, and my pledge to all of you is that I’ll see you in line November of 2020.
Good bye, Donald—I can’t let you fuck up my country anymore.