Six days before my 31st birthday, I raised my masturbating hand and officially became a member of Team America. As the end of a seven year immigration journey of bureaucratic nonsense and fingerprinting, it was nowhere near as profound as perhaps it should have been.
I was kind of blah going into it (you can take the boy out of England, etc.) and despite beating the definition of corny, the whole ceremony bit was nice enough, I suppose. So on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 C.E., 118 new Americans, from 38 different not-as- interesting-as-here nations came to be in an unremarkable hall at Clark and Congress. The ceremony began with "The Faces of America" video, which was so cliché, it seemed like parody.
Preceding the oath they do a call of nationalities, which was quite a nice touch, at which point the about to be American person stands. Directly in front of me was slender in a good way, and tattooed in a better way Serbian lady. Next to her was a middle-aged Bulgarian lady who tended to wipe her cheek just at the appropriate time, after every sweeping visual of Lady Liberty during the awful videos. On either side of me was a technical "German" who has lived in Jefferson Park since he was nine and an uninterested Indian doctor (I read his Blackberry emails). The whole thing ran about an hour.
The oath bit was fine. The part that kind of weirded me out was singing the national anthem. I am so used to standing still and silent during this song, regardless of my level of soberness, before every sports game. But here for the first time I felt compelled to join in, even with the hand over my heart and all that shit.
Here was the point that I realized that I would now have to self-identify with the people whose patriotism, which I mistakenly believed to be ignorance, I so happily mocked growing up. That shit is not on "us" though. Most of the blame for that ugliness and passionate dislike of enthusiasm falls squarely on that culture I used to be, and am now legally removed, from.
Mouthing the words to Star Spangled Banner was the moment I started to question my identity. Whatever else you may be, you cannot divorce nationality from self-identity and you'll always be judged by others by your cultural signifiers.
I've always been proud to be a Chicagoan. Now, I guess, I'll have to learn to be proud to be an American. This may be more difficult than I imagined. But, at least, I know, I'm free.
Follow Matthew Bailey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mpbaileymp