Category Archives: citizenship

Pantsuit universe

Yesterday one of my Irish readers was surprised by the feminist slant of my post – that aspect of the US presidential race seemed to have got lost in the general melee of “Crazy Trump vs. Hawkish E-mail Lady” media attention that people overseas were seeing.

I was surprised that she was surprised, because from where I’m sitting that’s one of the most salient and exciting parts of the whole thing, and one that I find totally uplifting.

In my experience, the glass ceiling is a lot tougher in the US than it is in Europe. Sexism in and outside the workplace is more prevalent. Attitudes are more trenchant. Personally, I’ve had more female bosses than male in Ireland and I’ve only ever had male bosses in the US. Maybe that’s coincidence, or maybe it’s something more.

I’ve been catcalled in America but not in Ireland. I’ve had dodgy experiences in Ireland and in Spain. I’ve walked home in the dark everywhere, and felt nervous as a woman alone in an unfamiliar area everywhere, and clutched my keys in a parking lot so I can stab someone in the eye at short notice everywhere. Nowhere has a clean record. Nowhere has a monopoly on good or bad behavior. But you can’t deny that when women earn 80c for every dollar men earn, and that a government made up of mostly men thinks it should be able to legislate on women’s bodies, things could be fairer.

Today women in America are wearing pantsuits for Hillary Clinton. They’re wearing white for suffragettes. They’re wearing family heirloom earrings and pendants and voting with their mothers and their grandmothers in their hearts, and with their daughters in their arms and their minds. They’re lining up at Susan B. Anthony’s grave and covering it with the little “I voted” stickers you get when you leave your polling place, because this is what she worked for and didn’t get to see.

Irish people are always quick to point out that Ireland elected two female presidents in a row, starting way back in 1990. Which is true, and wonderful – but the president in Ireland is mostly a figurehead, much like the English monarch. Ireland has yet to elect a female Taoiseach (Prime Minister). If Hillary Clinton is elected she will be, to coin a hackneyed phrase, leader of the free world – and also, simultaneously, a woman. While the rest of the world has to bite their nails and just wait and see, I got to go out to my local polling place this morning and have a say in that decision – as a woman, and an immigrant, and an American citizen.

That’s democracy. It’s an exciting time.

"I voted" sticker.

Yes I did.


Just a girl

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a boy. He lived at the top of my road, and our parents were good friends, so we were in and out of each other’s houses, and riding our bikes up and down the road, and happily duelling Sindys against Action Men and all that sort of thing for several years. But sometimes, especially as I got a little older, I didn’t always want to play the same games he did. “Let’s play cops and robbers!” he’d say. “Let’s do acrobatic tricks on our bikes,” I’d counter. So I’d be a robber escaping acrobatically from the cops, or a policeman doing an arabesque on my saddle as I pursued him.

Now and then, I had to pull out the oldest excuse in the book to get out of playing some game or other I didn’t feel like. I knew it was wrong at the time. The burgeoning feminist inside me cringed, but sometimes, to get out of things that looked too hard or too high or basically too uninteresting, I’d say to him “I’m only a girl.”

I don’t even know where my burgeoning feminist came from. She’d never heard of feminism. Her mother was not really flying the flag of liberated women, coming from the generation who had to give up work as soon as they got married, and not seeing any reason why a married woman would “take a job from a man”, as it was so quaintly perceived in those days. But she was the part of me who scrambled over rocks and climbed trees and turned cartwheels and read books and knew perfectly well she could do everything just as well, if not better, than her friends who were boys. Maybe that was why I knew it was wrong to say – it clearly wasn’t the truth. I may have heard it somewhere or read it in books, but in my own experience there was no reason to connect “only” with “girl”.

Tomorrow I’m taking my daughter with me – my fierce, independent, trail-blazing fighter of an eight-year-old girl – to vote for a woman to be the president of the United States. And I know that my daughter will never ever say she’s only a girl, because those words don’t go together at all. She’s everything a girl.




Things I did not say to the nice people at this morning’s very important appointment: 

All right, fine, I’ll be part of your country then.

Can I just skip the first line of the oath? I don’t really like this abjuring part.

Oh, look, there’s a gun in my bag! [on discovering Dash’s noisy plastic blaster]

Are you sure I can wear brown boots with grey pants?

Oop, time to get Mabel from school. You go on without me. I’ll do it some other day. [Don’t worry, B. went and got her and brought her back, whereupon she squirmed and asked about cookies in a very loud whisper for the rest of the time. I hadn’t thought it would go on so long.]

Why is it called naturalization anyway? Was I not natural enough before?

Things they did not say to me:

A good American citizen would support the economy by buying a new pair of trousers for this important event instead of wearing ones she’s had for nine years.

Wait a minute, you bought those before you had children and they still look good? Nice one.

But grey with brown? Hmmm.*

Your daughter’s hair has clearly not been brushed in more than two days. You may not become a citizen of our country.

You have a large zit in the middle of your forehead. Concealer ain’t fooling no-one. We prefer our new citizens zitless, thank you.

This photo on your naturalization certificate looks like a mugshot. I hope you weren’t planning on showing it to anyone.

Things I did say:

Cookies? Sure I’ll have a cookie. Cookies are a good thing about America.

It’s great that you gave me two miniature American flags, because both my kids like those.

Thank you.


 Well, I don’t feel any different. And the cookies were delicious. So that’s that over with.

*This is because my friend Helen’s Mom assures me that brown and grey is an okay thing. And was also the one who pointed out that I should be proud of those trousers.


The people in the waiting room had taken the American government’s vague requirement to be “properly attired” in a fascinating variety of ways. There was a diminutive, aged Indian woman in a pale blue sari with silver embroidery. There were men in suits. There was a Rastafarian in his best dreadlock-covering hat, his best leisure wear and silver chain. There were women clearly dressed in their “good” dark-denim jeans with a plain sweater and clogs. There was Sunday-best and dressed-for-work. Some people kept their important documents in a plastic bag, some held manila envelopes. Mine were in a green cardstock file folder.

Mostly people came and went through the heavy door at the back of the room without expression, without incident. I read my book and tried to ignore the 24-hour news channel exploring an unimportant incident in far too much depth, from all the wrong angles. A young black woman bounced out of the room, smiling and making jubilant motions in the direction of her husband, who was minding the baby. She had obviously dressed with care: her tiny frame sported a shiny, teal, drainpipe-legged pantsuit, finished off with bright white bouncy sneakers. Her long cornrow braids shook with triumph as she kissed her little boy.

I had gone through at least three outfits the night before, rejecting the trousers that don’t really fit any more because it was eight years and two babies ago when I used to wear them to work, and ended up in the exact outfit I wore for my mother-in-law’s funeral last February: purple dress, teal slim cardigan, black boots. I was comfortable and felt like myself, not some other version of me that’s not around any more or never was. And I looked as if I’d made an effort, which is all that “proper attire” turned out to mean.

My name was called. I followed the lady back to her room, where she shuffled and hole-punched and checkmarked pieces of paper as she asked me rote questions in a routine voice. First I had to stand up and promise to tell the truth, as if that would make any difference to an unscrupulous person. She wrote with her left hand at right angles to the pages, initialing and circling and numbering in red ink as she went, checking a whole row of boxes at once to catch up to what I’d already answered. I remained calm and collected and was a model student, getting all my civics questions right first time, even that elusively random number of Representatives in the House: 435. I wanted to say “Guam. Ask me the one about Guam. And that Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General of the United States. Those are my favourites,” but I didn’t, and she didn’t.

Then she asked me about my family, and whether I’d ever been in prison, and whether I’d ever conspired against the goverment, or been a Communist, and some other questions. And then told me that she’d be recommending that I be granted what I had come for. I could take the Oath at two this afternoon if I liked.

I didn’t like. My town has a Naturalization ceremony once a month and I’d assumed I’d do it at that; I hadn’t planned to be away all day. Beyond that, I wasn’t ready to seal the deal just yet. One step at a time, without thinking too hard, is the way I’m doing this.

Midway through the questions, I had almost started thinking about what I was doing, as she leafed through my Irish passport looking for stamps and dates. There’s no requirement to give up my Irish passport; I’m allowed to keep it. I’ll never not be Irish. I just don’t like that one line that goes “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…” That’s a lot to take on. That’s a lot to ask.

I’m just going to say it and not think about it, which I’m sure is exactly not what the people intended, but there you go. It makes sense to do this, it’s the practical thing to do for our family, to make sure we can stay here, where we’ve made our home, as long as we want to rather than finding ourselves chucked out at some sudden date if things go wrong and funding goes away and the letter of the law must be adhered to. I’m a sensible person. In the end, it makes no difference to my day-to-day life. America needs me, I tell myself, to be a sensible liberal-leaning democrat-voting, atheist, lactivist supporter for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I’ll say it, and I’ll do it.

But always and forever, if you cut me, I’ll bleed green.

Country of origin

I just downloaded the forms to apply for citizenship of the United States.

I think we can safely say I have mixed feelings about this. It’s not something I ever intended, or wanted, to do. I’m Irish, and Irish I’ll stay. (Though in fact, even saying that sounds uncomfortably jingoistic to me. I was never much of a one for waving the tricolour and dancing the Walls of Limerick; but Irish patriotism can be a different sort of thing. I’m fervently proud of my little country on the edge of the Atlantic, and would defend it like a sibling – that is, to be roundly criticized until an outsider agrees, at which point I would leap to its defense and point out all the wonderful ways in which it’s a million miles better than your country, so there.)

I currently have a green card – I’m a legal alien, a permanent resident; I can stay forever if I so wish. I can’t vote, and I can’t hold office, and I don’t get called for jury duty, but I’m okay with that. My children were born here – they have two passports and dual citizenship. But my husband came here first on a student visa, to get his doctorate. Since graduating, his visa has been dependent on his job. He could apply for a green card, but the waiting list is unbelieveably long.

On the other hand, I’ve been here for over five years, so I can apply for citizenship any time I like. And once I had that, his green card application would be processed in short order. Nothing has changed with his job, but he’s a contractor with a year-to-year contract. Nothing is certain in this life, especially for those of us who aren’t civil servants. Much as I might carp about how we never meant to stay forever, there’s a difference between deciding to go home when the time is right and being thrown out on your ear because somebody decides not to renew your visa.

I have cousins in this country who grew up in Ireland. They’re all settled here for good, much more mentally permanent than I am, but their view on citizenship was a pragmatic one when we discussed it. “Just get it,” they told me. “Cross your fingers behind your back if you like, but just get it to be on the safe side.”

They’re probably right. I probably will.