On Becoming an American

January 31, 2011

Last week, my son became an American.  Honestly, I didn’t attach much meaning to the event, other than celebrating the fact that I would now be able to properly claim him on my taxes and travel outside of the country together.  It was only when I told my friends about it and witnessed their huge positive reactions that I realized what a great thing it was.  Part of me had been feeling sad and guilty about Rahul becoming an American, because it meant he had to give up his Indian citizenship (India doesn’t grant dual citizenship).  I started the day with him by saying that he would always be Indian, no matter what any piece of paper says.  But now he would also officially become American.

 

And immigrating to America is hard work. let me tell you!  International adoption involves more paperwork than a graduate thesis, and in my case I had to have every document triple notarized, which meant standing in line over and over again at the notary’s office, the police station, the county clerk’s office, the apostille’s office, and several federal buildings.  And most of that time in line I was waiting alongside people who were at some point along in the process of immigrating to America.  It was disheartening.   Security guards wrangled us like cattle, shouting orders at the crowd of us, containing mostly non-English speakers.  People who were supposed to be guiding and serving us never looked us in the eyes, and I often startled them by looking straight at them and speaking to them in perfect English.  They clearly were used to pushing people around, and if there’s anything you can say (however stereotypically) about white, New York women–we DON’T like to be pushed around.  I often wondered how anyone, especially those who didn’t understand English could understand where we were supposed to go or what we were supposed to do, the instructions often being implied and assumed.  Many times I found myself nearly in tears, hurting for the people who were confused and trying their best to follow the proper procedures–totally at the mercy of people who were bored and bitter-hearted in their jobs.  One horrifying encounter with the nastiest of the New York county clerks (they seemed to hate their jobs more than any other people encountered on this journey) had me facing off with her while she insisted that the document I was asking to her to verify was improperly notarized–it was the original and only copy of Rahul’s orphanage record.  She held it in her hands seething with anger at me for having had it notarized contrary to her standards and I thought she was going to throw it back in my face or rip it into pieces as she went on and on about how wrong it was.  And when she completed her lecture, I stared back at her, speechless, with tears in my eyes, and finally said, “OK…So, are you going to verify it or not?” She paused for a moment then without taking her eyes off me, she stamped the document and shoved it across the counter at me without saying another word.

 

Once Rahul’s adoption was officially complete, almost 2 years ago, he should have automatically become a US citizen.  But the law has not caught up with the relatively new phenomena of international adoption, so we adoptive parents have to shell out another $450 to apply for our children’s citizenship.  And I didn’t have $450.  So the papers sat on my desk in a folder awaiting the day when I had the money to spare to start the process.  Then one day, a friend of mine pulled me over in church.  She handed me an envelope and I was confused.  Her father had just passed away very unexpectedly and she had just returned from his funeral days before.  She was so young to be losing a parent and I had been praying for her for weeks.  I couldn’t understand why she was giving ME a card.  After church I opened it.  Rahul and I were buying a brownie in a coffee shop and I embarrassed him immensely by blubbering like a baby as money poured out of the card which described how she and her siblings had had some money donated to them at the funeral and her siblings were giving their money to their children.  She however didn’t have any children yet, so she thought of me and Rahul and decided to give it to us.  She thought her dad would be happy to know that’s where it was going.  I decided right away that it would go towards Rahul’s citizenship.  Within days of hearing this story my sister called me and offered to donate the remainder of what I would need to process the paperwork from some extra money she had earned.  And so, like so many pieces of Rahul’s story–amazing, generous people got us where we needed to go.

 

 

The morning of the citizenship hearing was one of those crazy rain/ice storms and the traffic was terrible.  When I finally found a place to park I stepped out of the car onto pavement covered in ice covered in rain and the parking attendant jumped out of my way so I could slip and rip my knee open.  With a hole in my tights and blood pouring from my leg, I muttered under my breath something about not being aware a blood sacrifice was required for US citizenship.  When Rahul and I got to the building our appointment was in, we saw a line wrapped around the building, standing in the rain that was now pouring sideways, and I recognized them immediately–the huddled masses.  We took our place in line and entered the building a half hour later, soaked to the bone (so much for the cute outfits I insisted we wear).  An hour of waiting later we were ushered into an office, sworn in, we signed a few papers, then we waited for another hour.  Then someone brought out Rahul’s certificate. And that was it.  No confetti, no flag waving.  I think what Rahul will always remember about the day is that he got to watch Monsters vs. Aliens in the waiting room.

 

 

But I think when you have to work hard for something, the earning is sweeter.  And knowing that Rahul and I, and all those people who stood along side me, endured the process, I feel victorious.  God bless America.

 

My little American

Recycle the Review

January 5, 2011

So, if you don’t live in Riverdale, NY, you may not know what I’m getting so incensed about.  But if you do, you know how one of our local papers has been attacking PS 24, where my son attends school, for years.  The parents at the school and others in the neighborhood have created an organization called Recycle the Review (the paper is the Riverdale Review) in an effort to bring it down.  Freedom of the Press! you may say.  I agree, but I also say we need to protect the reputation of our school.  So along with many other parents at the school I have written a letter to several elected officials who support this paper.

Here’s my letter:

January 5, 2011

Dear Elected Officials,

I am writing to voice my concern over the Riverdale Review’s frequent articles demeaning PS 24.  I understand that you recently placed a congratulatory full-page ad in this paper and I’m confused about what there is to congratulate.

I no longer read this paper and in fact, I have begun to recycle the entire stack that is periodically left in my lobby.  But one recent headline stopped me in my tracks as it mocked PS 24’s reading program as producing “ding dong” students who can’t read.  This article particularly offended me, because my son, who is in fourth grade at PS 24 does not read at grade level, so I assume Mr. Wolf would regard him as a “ding dong”.  However, the reason he does not read at grade level yet is because I adopted him at age 7 ½ from an orphanage in India, where he received very little education.  Before I completed his adoption I moved to Riverdale, specifically to live in the PS 24 district.  In fact, we live 2 blocks away.  The past 2 ½ years that he has attended PS 24 have been incredible and I have nothing but kudos for our school.  Because of his learning delays and some mental health issues he suffers as a result of trauma, he could have easily have proved too difficult a student for any public school.  But the educators at PS 24 across the board have been unbelievably willing to do whatever it takes to help my son.  He has thrived in the school as a result of many people working very hard, compassionately and creatively to get him up to speed.  

The “ding dong” article not only was offensive, it was poorly reported.  I write professionally for several publications, including CBS NY online, and my editor would never approve such terrible reporting.  The only “expert testimony” cited in the article came from Mr. Wolf himself, who apparently deemed himself an expert because of his experience editing the education section of his own paper.

I am deeply disturbed by the Riverdale Reviews blatant hatred of our school and your support of this paper.  What’s more, I run a business in Riverdale and many of my clients have recently asked me what is wrong with PS 24 and have begun to assume that Mr. Wolf’s articles are founded.  However, I do have some clients who, even though they do not have children that attend PS 24, have begun “recycling” the Review as well, because they feel that real estate values are being driven down in our neighborhood because of PS 24’s damaged reputation.  One such client went so far as to call all of the advertisers in a recent edition and ask them to stop supporting a paper that is destroying our neighborhood.

I would like to request an apology for your previous support of this publication and your promise that will no longer do so.

Respectfully,

Renee Smith

Parent of Rahul Smith, 4-213, PS 24

Rahul in the Earth Day TShirt he made last April at school (and our dog, Baby Fish Mouth)