by: Cassandra Avenatti
This week, my partner and I agreed to volunteer to register brand-new citizens to vote. I had never witnessed a naturalization ceremony, and was interested in observing what went on. I was able to sit in, and what I heard left me feeling conflicted.
Immediately, the puritanical values of the ruling class were on display. The man organizing the ceremony listed the requirements for citizenship that the petitioners had fulfilled, which included possessing “good moral character.” I wondered how officials determined whether these folks were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and by what standards. The gentleman’s enthusiastic and uncritical patriotism made me squirm a bit.
Still, I couldn’t help but be moved by the significance of the event, and the sight of pride and excitement in people’s faces. Many immigrants spend years pursuing the basic rights of citizenship while working in low-paid, difficult jobs and being ineligible for most services. The attainment of legal citizenship is substantial and can change lives.
However, as the judge took the stand and expanded upon the wonders of the United States, I felt my skin begin to crawl. She made an embarrassing number of statements that reflected her assumptions about the 108 people in front her – their socio-economic status, level of education, goals, and cultural values, amongst other things.
She made highly flawed claims about the opportunities in the United States for people to pursue quality education and to obtain satisfying jobs. For millions of Americans, immigrant or otherwise, higher education is simply impossible. Tuition is prohibitively expensive, and grant and aid programs are being slashed across the board. These promises of access to our ‘outstanding’ educational institutions were simply deceitful.
Also, as those of us not holding highly paid legal positions know, there are hundreds of applicants for every reasonably paid position. For perspective workers, being an immigrant, person of color, woman, or other minority group can make finding work even more challenging.
Finally, the actual language of the oath is somewhat frightening. In swearing-in as a citizen, one is required to vow to ‘absolutely and entirely’ renounce their home country and swear to bear arms if the government should require it; all in the name of God.
While the grand idea of the American dream and its endless possibility has been fading rapidly, people still arrive every day with the hopes that hard work will propel them forward and allow them to thrive and to assist their families. The world is a brutal place, and even with all of the injustices here in the U.S., for some, it is a safer and freer option than their homeland. It is my hope that the U.S. will someday begin living up to its acclaimed greatness.
Cassandra Avenatti is a radical social worker, grassroots activist, performance artist and sex worker. Her primary areas of professional interest are LGBTQ rights, reproductive justice, anti-oppressive sexuality education, sex worker rights and fair housing. Cassandra earned her Master of Social Work from Jane Addams College with a specialization in LGBTQ Public Health & Urban Development, and she has since worked in HIV-prevention education and housing for queer youth. She possesses an affinity for adventure and cultural discovery, and has lived in five countries in the past seven years. Cassandra is an Executive Board member for the Sex Workers Outreach Project, and is a profoundly kinky Pro Domme. Cassandra also hosts a queer feminist book club in her home, and is a member of Chicago’s radically queer quoir, Stratosqueer. Cassandra has recently founded a non-profit organization, Project Fierce Chicago, and is working on obtaining a space on the South side of the city in which to establish an affirming collective-living community for chronically homeless LGBTQ youth