Monday, April 22, 2013

Little Blue Book

I pulled my passport out of the special leather case in which it's protected. We were on a flight headed to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and it was about a half hour before touchdown. Flight-attendants hurriedly began distributing Mexican tourist visa forms to be completed and handed to waiting Mexican Passport Control officers inside the airport.

But just before I opened my passport - navy blue, white letters, U.S.A., I held it in my hand a moment longer than any of my fellow passengers did theirs; turned it over to look at some security stickers from past adventures. I read the information in the first few pages before the photo page, before finding my passport number, and before I completed the form.

It's been an incredibly tense time in the national media, tense for all Americans in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings. Everyone has stayed glued to their televisions, ears tuned to news reports.  I was following minute-by-minute updates about the hunt for the bombers -- News about their national origins, their acquiring the privilege to enter and remain in the USA.

I opened my pen, ready to copy my passport information into the form issued to United Airline passengers -  I examined its cover. I held it in my hand a bit longer, taking a few extra moments to think about the privilege of having an American passport.

Mine was not obtained as the result of the coincidence of my place of birth. It was not because of  the good fortune to have been born in the USA. Instead, my passport was obtained as the result of a 14 year wait to gain my immigration visa from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. It's the result of an additional five-year wait to gain the privilege to take the USA citizenship exam and only after that, was I fortunate enough to travel on an American passport.

I remember making the trip downtown to the Federal Building in Chicago on the appointed day, stomach all in knots, after weeks of diligent preparation for my interview and exam. After one full hour, I emerged from the cubicle extremely lightheaded.

"Please take a seat in the main room along with your fellow Americans." said the blond haired INS officer, the one who had given me my exam. She moved to the front of the room, stepped up to the podium flanked by the Stars and Stripes on one side, and the State of Illinois flag on the other.

"Congratulations, you are now American citizens! Welcome to the United States of America!"

And as I looked around the room, barely a dry eye was to be found among eyes of many shapes, colors, and lands - so many of which had seen unspeakable hardships and sorrows.  Many of the families, just like my own, had been in transit for many generations.

It all came back to me during this past week of national tragedy. I've been holding my passport very close, marveling at my own good fortune to be an American and so saddened that there are those for whom the same is not true.

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