So ok...this was my experience at my Oath Ceremony today in Brooklyn.
Went through security relatively quickly and easily considering I showed up a good 40 minutes early. Now, I had gone ahead and called Camdan Plaza East where the ceremony was going to be held, so I already knew that no cameras or cell phones were permitted in the courthouse (whether participants or guests), and I already was aware that there would be a possibility that guests were not able to view the actual ceremony.
All Queens, NY filers must have their oath ceremony at the court house regardless of whether or not a name-change is requested. Just how it's done for Queens filers. The building itself is beautiful inside, with wide spiral staircases, and lots of marble and artwork on the walls. Headed up to the 2nd floor, where my husband and child were directed to the 3rd floor cafeteria. I asked if they would be able to view the ceremony at all, and was told they would be called down later on.
Fast forward to 8:30AM when we got started with everything. Applicants were taking up only 3 rows of the court benches, so it wasn't a long process to get everyone situated with how to fill out the back of the Oath Letter. A few moments later, a representative from the voter registration office gave a small speech on how to vote and pressed us to fill out the application form and immediately hand it back over to her, and then she left the room never to be seen again. After that, no one spoke to us or gave out any information on how the day would go, or welcomed us, nothing like that and participants were pretty much left on our own to just sit there and wait for....whatever was going to happen next.
We were called up again to hand over the green card and receive an envelope. Inside the envelope was a hard folder to place our certificate in, a copy of the oath, the passport application, and information on voting/serving on a jury. Wish I'd gotten a flag, but oh well. No welcoming letter from the President, but truth be told I didn't really expect one.
After about an hour, another lady started talking to us about passport applications and telling us that we can apply for the passport anytime after the ceremony (but not with them in any way, must be done through the post office or passport agency). One person asked a rather simple question about the form, and when the staff didn't understand him due to a language barrier, I re-stated the question more coherently (I was sitting infront of him). The man was then replied to in a long, drawn-out condescending way that he "shouldn't be asking them anything about passports---ask us about immigration only! When you go to the post office, you ask them questions about the post office, right??? I can't tell you anything about passports or the post office because I don't know anything about that." Kind of went on and on increasingly condescendingly....okaaaayyyy....well they DID present the passport application forms to us and asked if people had any questions, but whatever. She then stated we should apply for our SS status to be changed no less than 10 days after the oath ceremony, and asked if we had any questions about that process. No one said a peep, probably because they were afraid of being lectured for asking a question.
After another wait, the 3rd lady came into the room and started setting herself up at a desk. I was sitting in the front and could hear the staff conversations taking place since the room was nearly silent, and they were only a few feet away seated at the table. At that point, one of them said to her "did you bring the country list?" to which she replied "nah I didn't bother with it". From reading other oath ceremony threads, and watching videos, I knew then that there would be no announcement of the countries recognized at the ceremony, which was a downer to me because I was looking forward to that part....almost like feeling like our immigration success was a global community effort we all shared in, but wasn't going to happen at my ceremony today. It was also sad that they just seemed to decide on-the-spot to not be bothered with it and brush it off for whatever personal reason the woman had (maybe laziness?).
Soon enough, boredom sets in, since we are not being engaged in any way, and a few of us (myself included) start chatting among ourselves, not loudly. We have a few giggles discussing our immigration journeys, what country we are from, etc. and generally how we're happy to become citizens. About 10 minutes into our conversation, one of the workers comes over to us and ----- to my disbelief ---- tells us "You are getting too excited about this now, alright? You all calm down and be quiet." We, as a small group, were stunned that we were actually told to stop socializing with each other and just continue to sit there staring ahead in silence. Personally, I was flabbergasted that she implied we shouldn't even be HAPPY about reaching this day in our lives.
One of the workers stood up and threatened everyone that if they didn't hand in all previous USCIS-issued documents (EADs and expired GC's) to them now or failed to mail them in at a later date "We have everything on file so we already know. We can find out...I'm just letting you know we will find out" I felt this was completely unnecessary of them to say this out-of-the-blue, and in a passive-aggressive manner.
Afterwards, we were called up by line to view our naturalization certificates. As we approached the desk in single file, the lady barked out "what's your number?!" without explaining exactly what number she was referring to (I learned quickly she meant the last 3 digits of the alien number) then whipped out the certificate and gave each person literally a two-second glance at it before barking at us "sign your name!" To the woman's eye-rolling annoyance, I refused to give it barely a 2-second glance, knowing this would be the only time I could get the certificate corrected for free, and looked over everything not just my name. Upon sitting down, I remarked purposefully loudly to the woman next to me (who whispered to me how rude she was) "You know, I've never been referred to as just a number before, I thought they only did that in jail." The other worker met my eyes and slightly smiled sympathetically. I think even SHE was wondering why her co-worker was so abrupt with everyone, despite her *own* prior unpleasantness towards participants.
One poor girl who had requested a name change pointed out to the worker that the certificate didn't reflect her request. The worker asked her what her name was supposed to be, and then flippantly remarked "Well they didn't do it. Sign your name!" The young lady, for obvious reasons, hesitated in signing it and the worker looked up at her and actually said "What's the problem?" When the lady repeated that her name is not as requested on the certificate, she was again told to sign it as written. She did end up signing it, and then respectfully asked "What do I do now, though, about the wrong name?" The lady abruptly said "You have to go to civil court." and LITERALLY TURNED HER BACK TO HER in her swivel chair!!! Completely ignored her until she walked away, head down, and confused. "Next---what's your number?!"
Our families did eventually come down and were herded together into a small section partially away from us all.
The judge arrived, we all rose out of respect and then were told to be seated again. The judge immediately told us that she had just found out this morning that she would be presiding (from eavesdropping on the staff, I could hear them discussing which judge to call to administer the oath just before). She gave a brief 5-minute off-the-cuff speech about the importance of voting, and serving on a jury. There was no discussion about the importance of the day, no talk about immigrants contributing to the country, no mention about personal experience with the process. Just a statement about voting, and jury duty---and a mention of "Happy Diwali" to those celebrating it. She also introduced her new office clerk to us, a disinterested looking young man sitting next to her. Overall, she had a pleasant personality, just wished something more poignant was said. Anything. Anything at all. Something to make the day seem special. Near the end of her comments, she spoke about how we should go forth and be respectable members of society and pay our taxes. I noticed a few side-eyes being given and maybe we all thought the same thing....that we already *have* been paying taxes and *have* been good members of society.
We took the oath of allegiance, and then recited the pledge of allegiance. We all clapped for ourselves and each other. The judge handed us our certificate and shook our hands with a perfunctory "congratulations" and then we were immediately directed to leave the courthouse. Her new clerk, adding to his aura of disinterest, stood next to her with his hands in his pockets, not speaking unless directly spoken to.
All in all, it was a disappointing day. There was no memorable moment, no feeling of a journey acknowledged, no special gathering, no poignant moment where I felt included as a citizen, no....niceness....about the entire experience. I remarked to my husband later that it felt like I had just left another USCIS appointment where I just handed over some paperwork. It was abrupt, the staff seemed mostly annoyed with our presence, rude for the most part, and just an anti-climatic moment all-around since my immigration process began.
Am I happy that my journey is over and I'm a citizen as the main thing? Yes, I suppose so. Just wish more thought was put into making it an actual special day for people who have struggled, and sweated, and cried, and stressed and sacrificed to make it as far as they did. Previously reading other people's oath ceremonies in different cities/states had me thinking today wouldn't be "just like any other day".
All in all, the highlight of my ceremony was giving @vkhutchings a hug as we congratulated each other outside of the courtroom.
So that's it. Oh yeah, that sums up nicely how I felt as soon as I left the courthouse.... "That's it?"