4 years ago

American Magazine, Nov. 2013

The flagship publication of American University. This magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a forum where alumni and friends can connect and engage with the university.

“It’s highly

“It’s highly emotional. Many times people cry at naturalization procedures. Are they crying because they’re so happy to be Americans? For many I think that’s true. Are they crying because they’re leaving something behind and cutting themselves off from a dimension of their former life? It is a very important moment of transition.” —Alan Kraut, professor of history “I’m always going to be an Afghan, but I’m also an American now.” Eleven-year-old Mohammadulla Hassan’s days were spent in the manner of men. Inside the cramped two-room apartment he shared with his parents, five of his seven siblings, and another family in Islamabad, Pakistan, he’d be jostled awake by 7 a.m., then head to work. At the local bizarre he sold plastic bags for two rupees each (turning a one rupee profit) to shoppers buying fruits and vegetables. As day turned to dusk, he’d scour the city collecting scraps of cardboard, which he then flipped to recyclers for three rupees per pound. Often, he didn’t return home until 9 at night. He had never been enrolled in a school, knew no English, and although he could speak Farsi, could not read or write it. The Hassans are Afghans and Shiite Muslims, refugees who were driven from their homeland in the late ’90s by the Taliban. Across the border, life was safer but no easier. “We didn’t have any future,” Hassan, now 19, says. “Education was always important to my parents. We weren’t able to get that in Pakistan. My parents knew that if we moved back to Afghanistan, it would be the same thing. To come to the United States, there would be opportunities for a better life.” Dullah, as his friends call him, is recounting this on a bench in front of the Mary Graydon Center on a sunny early September day. Behind him on the quad, students lounge on blankets, soaking up sun and laughing with their friends. Frisbees, not bullets, fly through the air. That he could blend into this idyllic setting—a few weeks earlier he arrived at AU to begin his freshman year—is a proposition he or any other rational person would have found unthinkable just eight years ago. Only in America, as the cliché goes. For millions of immigrants who make their way to this country in pursuit of the same thing the Hassans were chasing—“a better life”—the phrase has deep meaning. Hassan has a full plate these days. He’s adjusting to the nuances of dorm cohabitation, diving into financial accounting class (he wants to become an economist), and trying to find time to play soccer. But these activities, all important ones to an undergrad, have taken a back seat to another: pursuing American citizenship. Pushed by their hearts, their heads, or their wallets, hundreds of thousands of people each year become U.S. citizens. Their motivations range from patriotic to pragmatic. Like the country they’re becoming a part of, new Americans are a complex, diverse group with a wide spectrum of pasts, present circumstances, and futures. Naturalization is not a quick process. Applicants must be permanent residents for at least five years; undergo a background check; prove they can speak, read, and write English; and pass a civics test before they earn the right to raise their right hand and take the oath of allegiance. “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any 28 American Magazine NOVEMBER 2013

mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” Those words are not taken lightly by the men and women who say them, even if many are allowed by their native nations to maintain dual citizenship. “To seal your relationship with a society in a legal bond, the same way you do when you step before a judge and marry someone, that’s a very powerful experience,” says history professor Alan Kraut, an expert in immigration. “It’s highly emotional. Many times people cry at naturalization procedures. Are they crying because they’re so happy to be Americans? For many I think that’s true. Are they crying because they’re leaving something behind and cutting themselves off from a dimension of their former life? It is a very important moment of transition. It’s not quite religious conversion, but if you measure the emotion in the room, it could almost be.” Hassan isn’t sure how he’ll react when he trades his green card for an American passport. He’ll have to wait a little longer to find out. His naturalization interview, originally scheduled for October 10, was delayed due to the government shutdown. Considering what he’s been through, a little partisan bickering is nothing more than a minor annoyance to him, like a pesky gnat. In Afghanistan, 24 members of his extended family—all men—were killed before his father took four-year-old Dullah and the rest of the family to Pakistan. There he was unwelcome at Pakistani public schools due to his ethnicity and unable to afford private schooling. So work it was. Miraculously, he does not look back at that period of time as particularly harsh or unpleasant. “I never feel sorry, I never regret it, I never say ‘why’ or ‘I wish,’” he says. “I enjoy those memories because, although some kids I’m friends with now, when they were kids they went to school and Disney World, I might have had just as much fun working hard and flying kites, playing marbles. I was conditioned to that living style.” The family applied for refugee status in the United States and was set to go. Then 9/11. Four more years, filled with 14-hour work days and nights spent sleeping on the floor, passed before Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RISA) was able to process them. “I don’t feel like a visitor here.” Not a g’day goes by in which Chris Tudge doesn’t think about his native Australia. “You don’t get adjusted,” says the biology professor, who’s leaning back in his Hurst Hall office desk chair, sporting shorts and a casual blue short-sleeved shirt. “People ask me all the time, ‘What do you miss about Australia?’ My answer’s always ‘everything, especially family.’ I think about Australia in some capacity all the time, whether it’s looking out the window and comparing the weather to my hometown or thinking, ‘I should have called my mother last night.’” Yet Tudge isn’t exactly homesick. In one sense, Takoma Park, Maryland, the Washington suburb where he lives with his wife, Karen, and their two daughters, now is his home. Tudge came to the U.S. in 1995 for a one-year postdoc program at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. While there he met his soon-to-be bride, an archaeologist, at a Friday-night social function at the museum. When Tudge returned to Australia for another postdoc appointment, Karen joined him five months later. They were married in his hometown of Brisbane before she returned to the U.S. The first year of their marriage was spent a world apart. Practical reasons caused the couple to choose the U.S. over Australia as their permanent residence. “She had a federal government position, which is nothing to sneeze at, and we wanted to adopt kids,” he says. “The American system is way faster and cheaper than the Australian system.” So on Christmas Eve, 1998, Tudge returned to America. They did adopt those children—Laura is 12, Hannah, 10—and settled into life in D.C. In 2002, Tudge decided to become a U.S. citizen primarily for convenience. “I heard about a job at the Smithsonian as a research fellow,” he says. “I found out I was ineligible because I wasn’t a citizen, so I decided I would start the process of applying.” In 2005, Tudge added an American passport to his Australian and United Kingdom ones (the son of British parents, he’s actually trinational). While that federal job never materialized, he loves Washington and the life he’s created. “I don’t feel like a visitor here,” he says, “but when I talk about home, I talk about Australia.” “I vividly remember the day, I ran to him and said ‘Are we citizens yet?’” Seven years separated the two embraces. Pallavi Kumar doesn’t remember the first. It was March of 1973, and she was just nine months old. Born to parents of Indian decent (neither of whom grew up in India), Kumar, SOC/ SPA/BA ’94, had just arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport when her father, Jitendra, first laid eyes on her. “Holding her in my arms,” he says, his voice cracking, “was an amazing feeling.” Jitendra was a Ugandan citizen when President Idi Amin expelled all Asians from the country in 1972. His wife, Bharti, had returned to India to give birth to Pallavi. Suddenly a refugee, he headed to Pittsburgh, home to a brother-in-law he had never met. He quickly landed a job in pharmaceutical sales—“I was lucky,” he says—and arranged for his now larger family to come to Pennsylvania. “He bought his first house within a year of moving here, then we got a bigger house in a better school district when we went into grade school,” says Kumar, a School of Communication professor. “He sent my sister to the University of Pennsylvania, he sent me to AU. My dad came to this country with $20. He was living the American dream.” In 1980, Pallavi became a U.S. citizen when her father did. “I vividly remember the day,” she says. “I got out of school and wore a pretty dress. I knew that my dad had been practicing the test, and I knew that if he passed, that meant we were part of this country. He was in a black suit, and when he came out, I ran to him and said, ‘Are we citizens yet?’ He picked me up, hugged me, and said, ‘Yes we are.’” “My colleagues gave me an American flag,” Jitendra says from Florida, where he’s retired. “I thought, ‘Now I have a country.’ It’s been a great life. I worked hard for 40 years, put the kids through college, and watched their careers grow. Nowhere else in the world can you do what you can do in this country.” Let’s talk #americanmag 29