Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Long Road to the Ballot Box

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Long Road to the Ballot Box

Article excerpt

I stood in the voting booth at the high school in rural California, 200 miles north of San Francisco. The pen made a soft noise as I filled in the bubbles next to the names I had chosen. I was excited. This was my first time voting in the United States. It was a school-board election.

"Congratulations," said Mike, my husband.

"Did you vote, Mom?" asked Stephen, my teenage son. "Cool. In a few years, I'll be able to vote." Several years ago, as we sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner, Mike had said, "Well, Joan, you can cook a delicious turkey dinner. You've passed the test: You can apply to become a citizen." "Sure can, Mom," Stephen had said. "This is award-winning gravy." "You'd pass with flying colors," murmured Colleen, my 13-year-old daughter, her mouth crammed with candied yams. "Maybe the test will be about baseball," my mother-in-law said, laughing. "You love the game." My husband and I met in New Zealand, where I was born. We married in 1976 in California. I had an alien registration (green) card. I had lived in the US for more than five years as a legal resident, so I was eligible to apply to become a citizen. But I loved my place of birth also. Would I have to give up my New Zealand citizenship? And where would I find time to study? I lived nowhere near a college. I'd have to study at home. I learned through the New Zealand Consulate that I'd be able to keep my New Zealand passport. My husband said, "I'll help with the dinners and the dishes." "I'll quiz you," said Stephen. "Mom, I'll help Dad with the dishes," said Colleen. So I sent my application, two recent photos of myself, and my fingerprints to the Immigration Department in San Francisco. I put the books I needed to study on a table by my bed. Every spare moment I'd dash in and read a chapter. The books were: "United States History 1600-1987," "US Government Structure," and "Citizenship Education and Naturalization Information." Stephen arrived home one day and dropped three large history books and several videos in my lap. "I guess we can watch history together," he said. We enjoyed learning about the first colonies, the 13 original states, the Revolutionary War, and how the nation grew. …

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