Several times this past year I have uncovered stories that touch a nerve or bring back a memory, but none can compare to an assignment I undertook two weeks ago. I attended a naturalization ceremony for Caecelia Hansen of Helper and even though I was only part of the celebration by taking photos and interviewing the people involved, I felt as though I was going through the process again.
Caecelia was born in England and came over to America as a young child. Caecelia's mother thought that just because her husband had been naturalized that that process had included the entire family. Thus Caecilia thought all her life that she was an American citizen and even voted in elections for over 70 years. When it was discovered two years ago over a medicaid issue that she was still an English citizen, the local Association of Governments went to work for her. They helped finalize her citizenship with a celebration two weeks ago.
Although my personal story is different from hers it has some very similar parts. I was born a Canadian, but my mother was an American and I discovered when I transferred to a Montana high school at 15, that I needed a student visa. That student visa was eventually changed into a working visa and for many years. I worked in the United States under a landed immigrant status. I was also issued a green card along the way.
However, much like Caecilia, voting became important to me and in 1986, 19 years after I first entered America, I began the naturalization process. In many ways my process was easier than Caecilia's because I had only a brief history in America compared to her 92 years. My records were easily attainable.
The only hang-up I encountered was a deportation in 1968 when, at 16 years old, the custom's office at one of the border crossings lost my paper work and I had to return to Canada and reapply for the student visa.
However, at 35 years old, voting was becoming more and more important to me so I began studying for the ultimate test. I took a 12 week adult education class to refresh my knowledge of the American government process, even though I had earned a degree in American history while I was in college.
Once the paperwork was completed and the process in place I traveled to a district court in Great Falls, Mont. and completed my naturalization process.
The questions I was asked 15 years ago about my involvement in other governments were the same ones that Ms. Hansen was asked. Although necessary, they appeared as ridiculous then as they did two weeks ago. Questions like have you ever been a spy? Have you ever been a member of the Communist party? Are you a part of a monarchy?
Somehow, to a former farm boy and small town newspaper man they seemed far removed from my life.
There were also history questions asked both of Caecila and myself. I was only asked three questions and all were very elementary. They must have been canned questions because both, Caecelia and myself were asked which president freed the slaves and who was the first president of the United States.
But the ceremony following the official swearing in was memorable and I will always remember the pride I felt that day and I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as an American citizen. I still have the American flag they presented me. I am glad, however, that I didn't have to sing God Bless America like Caecilia did. I am fortunate that the reasons for applying for citizenship back in 1986 are still very important to me today. I wanted the opportunity to vote.
I have never missed voting in an election since 1986 and like Caecilia it is a great privilege to do my part in the election process. I value that right a great deal and feel its my obligation as an American to cast my ballot.
You can bet that I'll be in that voting booth today. I hope I am joined by every American.