On (Not) Being an American Citizen
June 28, 2006
The day I left New York City, the driver who took me to the airport asked me, "What is this PEN conference?"
A conference of a bunch of writers from around the world, I answered him. He showed great interests and asked many questions about writing, being a writer and reading. In turn, I asked my share of questions, and got his life story in twenty minutes. He was born in Romania, studied to become an engineer, married a woman he had always loved and had twin daughters with her. It was around this time that life under the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu (the leader of Romania from 1965 to 1989) became unbearable.
"You know how it goes with a communist country," the driver said, and I nodded in agreement. He and his wife, like many of his intellectual friends, found ways to leave Romania and eventually made it to America, where their twin daughters grew up like all the other American kids.
"They don't like to read. Only when a book is made into a movie do they become interested. And I say to them, see, I got my degree, I am old, but still I have a dictionary by my hand and read whenever I can. But they don't understand it."
I believed the driver: earlier in the morning, when I went to the coffee shop next door to buy a cup of coffee, I saw him waiting in his car in front of the hotel, reading.
Once I tutored a student from Belgrade. She told me that she had never loved reading until the war started and they had nothing to do but wait in their room for the bombs to drop onto their heads, and read.
Yesterday I visited a friend and looked at some of her photographs. She is working on a project titled "becoming Americans" where she goes out to document the ceremonies in San Francisco where 1200 immigrants take the oath to become American citizens twice a month.
"It's a very emotional ceremony," the photographer said.
I looked at the faces in the prints, taken at one of the most important moments of their lives, and imagined the day when I would become an American citizen, if that day ever comes. If it is a journey to become an American citizen, what would we give up to reach the destination, and what would we bring with us that we could never imagine giving up?
Thanks so much for reading. This will be my last post on POV Borders: American ID's Border Talk.