Last week, I did maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I got to accompany a client as she did her oath ceremony and became a citizen of the United States. I didn’t “do” much though, I just sat there really, but my client had asked me to come so I was there.
The week before, I’d gone with Melissa to an elementary school to present about Taller de José and our Lenten project. That day, Melissa led the kids through a reflection where they imagine going somewhere entirely new, to a new school, where they didn’t speak the language. How would they feel about that? Then, how would they feel if they could bring their best friend? The kids would gasp with joy at this question. “Happy!”, they immediately shouted. It was accompaniment explained in the simplest way, in the best way. I know I’m not my client’s best friend, but on the day of her oath ceremony, I got to make sure she wasn’t alone, and I think we were both happy about that.
It was probably 20 degrees the morning of her oath ceremony, and I got to the giant federal building 30 minutes before our meeting time, but she was already there. Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize a person when they are wearing a mask, a hat, and a giant winter coat, but when that person is excited and is looking to make eye contact with you, you can’t miss them. We walked inside, went through security, and then took the elevator to the 7th floor. The ceremony wasn’t starting for another hour, so we waited in the lobby area and talked. She told me about her life, what it had taken for her to get there, people that had come and gone over the years. She said she always struggled in school, and that the first time she took the citizenship civics test she had studied for a year, but still failed. She said life had thrown a lot at her, but somewhere along the way she started having faith. Lots and lots of faith, she said. That day she seemed especially full of faith and gratitude. I’ve started to think that they’re one in the same.
We walked into this carpeted, low-ceilinged room, where they asked us to sit in the chairs put together by the back wall. Everyone else’s family and friends had to wait on a different floor of the building, but as an interpreter, I was allowed to be there. I felt incredibly lucky to be a witness to this event, but looking around, most people seemed to be half asleep. Not my client. We sat waiting for the judge to come for maybe fifteen minutes, and she continued whispering to me about thanking God for her life, with tears streaming down her face, disappearing under her little blue surgical mask.
When the judge entered the room, we all stood up, and I handed my client the little sheet of paper so she and I could read the oath in Spanish. Her right hand raised, we repeated the oath as the judge read it, Spanish mixed up in the air with English–it felt magical.
The judge was emotional, she read a short speech about citizenship, about making the United States a kinder, more just place. All this I roughly interpreted after the judge had finished, but my client seemed to hardly care what the judge had said at all. She knew what this meant for her. We were walking on air at that point, or at least she was, and she pulled me with her.
That’s why it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I really didn’t “do” much that day, just sat with my coat bunched in my lap, listening. But my client made the moment sacred. She filled the room with her gratitude and faith, and she brought me with her. And we were both happy.
Written by Katie Wojda (she/her/ella)
Katie is serving at Taller de José as a Compañera through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.