Monday, August 07, 2006

Citizen Mama

Friday was a very special day for our family - and for my mother, in particular.

It was the end of a long ordeal, one that involved a lot of waiting, far too much bureaucracy, and a whole bunch of frustration. But now that she's finally broken through to the other side, my mother is as happy (and relieved) as I've seen her in a long time. And that made it worth suffering through this whole process.

On Friday, Cecilia Casselberry became a U.S. citizen.

It took almost three years to see this through. There were points where we doubted it would ever happen.

So many disappointing letters came in the mail, detailing some reason for the delay in the process. Name confusion was the biggest problem. (Had we done this before 9-11, I'm betting it wouldn't have been such an obstacle.) Two separate background checks had to be run for my mother's Chinese name and her American one. On two separate occasions, her fingerprints were deemed "unclassifiable" by new technology. (Never mind that when she did it the old-fashioned way, her fingerprints were fine.)

And even when those issues were solved, miscommunication between federal and state offices tangled up the process for months. It was unbelievably aggravating, because it seemed so silly. I could go on and on about it, and there were plenty of times when I wanted to make angry phone calls, type out angry letters, or just vent my frustrations here on the blog. Ultimately, however, I didn't think that would help matters, so I held back.

Besides, I'd prefer to let go of that stuff now and focus on happier things. I really need to thank those who helped us, particularly Congressman John Dingell and his office, which fought for my mother when no one else would, asking the correct people why her case was being held up, and creating enough of a squeaky wheel to get some grease. And I don't know if she'd like being mentioned here or not, but I especially have to thank Pat Andrews, who took on my mother's case after my father wrote to Congressman Dingell, and over the past year, whether she realizes it or not, has become a valued family friend through this entire process. I'm not sure this ever would've been done without her help.

The one touch of bittersweet to the day is that my father wasn't sitting next to me when Mama Cass was sworn in. He started the ball rolling three years ago, encouraging my mother to finally get her U.S. citizenship, fearing not having it could hurt her down the line, after she retired. He kept the correspondence with Pat alive, frequently checking in for updates. He kept encouraging my mother to be patient, whenever she became fed up with bureaucracy entanglements.

Friday was for him as much as anyone else. I know he was there with us, at 11:29 a.m., smiling at the sight of Mama Cass, along with 342 of her fellow immigrants, raising their hands, and reciting the oath of allegiance. Mom could feel him, too. You could see it in her face. It's been a long time since I've seen her that relieved - and so happy.

Let the record show that Mama Cass' first meal as a U.S. citizen was enjoyed at the Common Grill in Chelsea. Over a plate of grilled fish and steamed vegetables, along with a refreshing iced tea, Cecilia could finally sit back and relax, content that this ordeal was finally over. (Cocktails were saved for her son, who remembered he still had to drive home.)

Congratulations, Mama. All your hard work deserved this payoff, and we're all extremely proud of you.

More photos are available here.