“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible.” Wait, is it indivisible before under God? Or under God before indivisible?
This was my ragged thought process as I drove up to Frankfort a few weeks ago to become naturalized as an American citizen. It was the final step in a long series of steps that, frankly, had taken me 10-plus years to take. Now all I had to do was remember the pledge correctly.
I texted my question to my friend Jessica Crockett, who was student government president in high school and led the pledge every morning (“Nerd alert,” she admitted upon sharing that sweet piece of trivia).
“Under God before,” she immediately texted back.
That was settled. Now just 1 hour and 20 minutes to Frankfort. I was dressed in an American blue dress my husband had given me, wearing a bracelet featuring an American flag charm (courtesy of Crockett), and animal print heels my friend Dustie bought me. Thinking about how well surrounded I was for this event brought me to tears while passing Richmond, which was about the hundredth time I’d gotten choked up over this thing.
The drive went smoothly, but I arrived at the federal courthouse feeling nervous. Did I have all the correct documentation? After years of going through interviews with customs agents, that is an immigrant’s first worry: That we’re going to be caught without the right paperwork and be sent home.
But I double-checked my purse and my green card and passport were there. Then I looked up and saw that people had started streaming in for the ceremony. Us immigrants, we stood out. First off, many of us were very patriotically dressed in one or all three of the colors of the American flag. Second, most were dressed to the nines. Like, we’re talking men in crisp suits and women in silk down to their ankles. A few women wore full African garb, complete with elaborately beaded dresses and gold, lime green, and ruby red head wraps about a foot in height.
Seeing those wraps made me cry again because it made me think about how big this day was. That they were honoring it with their most celebratory attire was incalculably touching to me.
But I pulled myself together. I walked to the courthouse and up to the third floor, where there was a line of immigrants waiting to get checked in. A very unsmiley woman was taking our green cards and punching two holes through them to render them invalid. I have to say, handing in that card, the thing that has been the key to crossing the border with ease, wasn’t an easy thing to let go of. But like everyone else, I handed it in.
Once we’d done so, we were given a packet with a number written on the front of it. I looked down and saw I was No. 1. Much like a graduation, we were to line up according to our numbers and take our seats accordingly.
“I’m going to have you introduce yourself to the judge,” the unsmiley woman said. “Also tell him your country of origin and where you live now.”
No. 2, a beautiful girl from Peru with pink hair, elbowed me.
“Lucky you, you get to talk first,” she joked.
We filed into the courtroom and I saw my husband William, who had raced up to Frankfort in the middle of his workday. His face was beet red and he was looking a little worse for wear, so I knew it had been a very, very fast drive to make it in time.
I couldn’t make much eye contact with him though, as I was afraid I would start crying again; how sweet was it that he had insisted on being there?
With all of us seated, the judge came in.
“Welcome,” he said. “Today, there are 38 of you from 26 countries who have come a long way to get to this day,” My heart swelled. Imagine, 26 countries represented in one room, how awesome was that? I tried to focus on the icons of the stenographer’s computer so I wouldn’t tear up.
Then the unsmiley lady asked us to introduce ourselves. I was so worried I would break down I just stood and said, “Tara Kaprowy. Canada. Somerset.”
I sounded like I was announcing my jailer number. I sat abruptly and the woman from Peru looked at me a little strangely.
“Good morning, judge,” she said smoothly. “My name is …”
Everyone obviously followed suit using her style. Once we introduced ourselves, the attorney made two motions: one asking for admission of the applicants, and another to grant requested name changes; I think there were 15 in our ceremony.
The judge happily did so. Then we stood and said the pledge. I looked briefly over at William and he had the same emotional look on his face that he had had the day we got married. I lost it then, but only two tears fell, and we started saying the pledge, which I have to say, I nailed. The judge then shook our hands while handing us our naturalization certificates and that, as they say, was that.
After, I went to lunch at Heirloom in Midway and had a glass of champagne. I arrived home to find that Dustie had decorated our lawn with flags and patriotic streamers, and I finally let myself cry and cry.
Why all this emotion? I’ve realized in the past weeks how forcefully citizenship is embedded in a person’s identity. Wiggling it around is kind of like wiggling a tooth — its attachment runs deep.
It wasn’t, please understand, that I was upset about renouncing my Canadian citizenship (Canada will always recognize me as a citizen anyway). It was the idea of being able to fully embrace this new American life, being able to vote, being able to cross the border and be welcomed back. NPR is now my news. Washington, D.C. is now my capital. And Kentucky is now truly my home.