Yesterday was a red, white, and blue day at our house. My brother's wife, Hazel, got her American citizenship and was presented papers at a ceremony in Texas. It has been a long, sometimes difficult process. About ten years ago, my brother advertised online at a pen pal site, for someone he could e-mail and get to know; He was hoping to meet a young lady who would eventually marry him, but it seemed a long shot. Through a short, serendipitous free offer, at an internet cafe, far away in the Philippines, a young girl took a giant chance and responded. She was looking for a friend, but more than that, a Christian man, one who would treat her with respect and provide a way for her to help her family survive, one who would not abuse her, sell her or abandon her. My brother got her address and they began a correspondence that would last five years, first by e-mail, and later through a phone he provided her. After three years, he persuaded my dad to accompany him to the Philippines and meet her family. For a year after that visit, Hazel tried to get her papers so she could come to the United States and be married here. It didn't work. She was rejected.
People warned my brother: "She's just trying to get to America. She'll abandon you once she gets over here." He said he was willing to take that chance. Her friends warned her, "You never know about those Americans. You'll get over there, and they'll sell you to a slave market." But she trusted God that this man was genuine and really loved her.
So my brother, my dad, and my mom flew to the Philippines for month and they had a huge wedding over there. Then, armed with a marriage license and an album full of wedding photos, Hazel re-applied. This time it worked. Almost five years ago, just before Christmas, she finally arrived in the United States.
So yesterday we stood in the courthouse. There was no room to sit. The rows were full of new Americans--from countries that encircled the globe: Kenya, Congo, Russia, Columbia, Mexico, China, Burma, India, Iran. Standing there watching them was one of the most wonderful things any one could do in a courtroom.
Some were proud, self-assured, and bold when we pledged allegiance.
Others sat quietly, withdrawn, with who knows what haunted visions. Some
smiled easily; others only once--when they held the papers in their
There were families with children, all waving American flags. Interesting profiles from all different races.
They had to repeat a long oath of allegiance, promising to defend this country and abandon their former loyalties.
We heard America the Beautiful, listened to a short address about the freedoms promised in our constitution, the responsibility to participate in the judicial and the electoral process, and the priviledges of being an American. Then, as names were called, nearly 80 candidates came forward to receive their papers of citizenship. This lady could hardly walk, but she was determined to receive them into her own hands.
This family came hesitantly forward, but, encouraged by the warm smiles of the judges, lawyers, and court personnel, they smiled and left for the foyer and the cookies provided by ladies of the DAR.
I was particularly impressed by this gentleman, the only representative from his country, one known for its oppressive government and for the magnitude of human suffering seen there. He seemed to absorb the ceremony and breathe it in. Though it was dark in the courtroom and my pictures were grainy, I managed to catch this joyful expression when he went forward.
Hazel was estactic, as were we all--her new family in America.
She has proven a wonderful sister-in-law, a help and encouragement to my mother and father, a good wife to my brother, and a bright, animated, industrious, friend.
So what of her family, left to fight their way through the poverty of their village? Did she abandon them? Not at all. For them, she has been an angel, helping her parents build a small home of their own, paying for her Mom's tuberculosis medicine, for her brother's college tuition, her sister's board exams. She arranged for the planting of one hundred coconut trees on the small plot of hilly land owned by her disabled father, and she sends boxes of goodies to her home church and pastor--vitamins and notebooks for the children.
How has she been able to afford such benevolence? My brother is not a wealthy man. Well. She has a steady job at Wal-mart, a simple job but it pays her more than all the combined incomes of her family back home. She is a blessed woman. And we are one blessed family!
I know it's fashionable to criticize this country, to disparage the founding fathers and question every motivation of government, but I'm still optimistic. I believe in what our constitution stands for... this nation of immigrants who yearned for freedom, welcoming difficulty, and risking peril, all for hope of a better life.