I was invited by a British colleague to the ceremony for him to become an American citizen. It was held in a large wood paneled courtroom at a spanking new federal building. Around fifty people were being "citizenized." The inductees, in Sunday best, were grouped in the front of the courtroom. In the back, the ceremony was being witnessed by a large collection of family and friends. I was sitting on a hard wooden bench with a Polish guy on my left who was holding flowers for his wife, a soon to be American. To my right sat an older Hispanic woman, all in black, who was working rosary beads as her husband and others took the oath of citizenship.
A world weary judge admonished the inductees to not screw up this opportunity; vote as if your life depended on it. A video played with stirring music and patriotic visuals of flag waving, amber fields of grain and Mt. Rushmore. Another video had President Trump congratulating the new Americans, "You are hugely important, hugely, to making this country really great." Finally, the oath of allegiance was read in a glaring monotone by a stick thin female clerk at the front of the room. Thankfully, the participants were much more animated as they repeated the oath, their right hand raised. The oath basically said that new citizens would be all in for the good old USA, and would defend it if needed. Probably not politically correct, but at the end of the oath, the folks agreed to do this, "so help me God." Following the oath and a moving recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, each newly mintied citizen received a certificate of naturalization, as relatives crowded around to take photos. A little chaotic, but hey, this is hugely important. Glad that I was there to support my friend and the other new citizens.
Depending on the time and place, officially being a citizen can be a big deal. During the Roman empire, claiming citizenship got you props: ability to vote, advantages before the law, freedom from certain taxation, you couldn't be whipped or tortured. The apostle Paul got out of a few jams because he could claim Roman citizenship, having been born in Tarsus, a "free" city, which was under the control of Rome. Modern nation states began to form in Europe in the 17th century. It was a matter of pride whether you saw yourself as French, German or an Englishman (women had almost no rights as citizens). European wars were often over territory so that there was more room for a country's growing citizen population. Hitler was focused on a new Germanic empire which would encompass most of the world. He wanted Herr Franz to open a Nazi uniform store in Brooklyn.
Being called "citizen" can be a two edged sword. During the French revolution, Citizen Jean and the rest of the hoi polloi got hold of the government and offed the king, the queen and most of the nobility. But during the Reign of Terror these citizen leaders of the revolution turned on themselves and quite a few got an unwanted visit to the same guillotine where Marie Antoinette lost more than her cake. Native Americans were "citizens" of their particular tribes with plenty of cultural rights, but the white man came along and made the Indians worth less than dirt (they were after their lands). It wasn't until 1924 that Native Americans were given U.S. citizenship. Women had finally attained the vote, constitutionally, in 1920. Now they both could vote for the corrupt power structure.
As a welcoming gift, I got my "new citizen" friend a blue polo shirt with a raised American flag on the left breast, right over the heart. May he always be aware of the good far outweighing the bad in America's long journey.