Unlike my trip to the interview, my drive to the naturalization ceremony was a relaxed one. I wasn’t nervous, simply enjoying a day off work with my wife, and the chance for a short road trip. We arrived in San Antonio an hour early, and sat in the park for a while.

The ceremony was to be at the Institute of Texan Cultures at noon. By the time we headed there, over half an hour early, there was a long line of cars attempting to enter the car park. Eventually at around 11:45 I decided to walk the remaining hundred meters or so, and meet up with rothko later on once she had parked. The notice inviting me to the ceremony had specified that I should dress for a solemn occasion. Further investigation online had led to some more specific suggestions — “a nice shirt” — so I changed into that, and exited the car.

The Institute of Texan Cultures is a squat bunker-like building. Inside was museum-dark, apart from the huge wall-sized neon Texas flag. It was thankfully well air conditioned, and I was directed to a long line of Americans-to-be waiting to have their paperwork processed. As a final check, on the day of the event you need to fill out one more form stating for the record that you haven’t committed any genocide or other disqualifying acts since your interview.

It soon became clear that the stated start time of noon was an aspirational one; I got to my seat around 12:10. After another 10 minutes or so, we — that is, the row of people I was seated with — were taken aside. Our papers were checked and our immigrant visas taken from us for the last time for secure disposal. I wished my green card a fond farewell, and sat back down for the main event.

While I waited, I looked through the material in the large envelope I had each been given. There was a cardboard presentation folder to hold the certificate I would receive at the end of the ceremony. A second envelope contained a letter of congratulations from President Obama. A dark colored three-page document turned out to be the paperwork to apply for a passport. There was also a leaflet explaining the process of registering and voting in a federal election, and a copy of the form to fill out. An announcer told us that if we filled out our voter registrations, we could hand them in at the end of the event.

As a citizen-to-be, I had already received additional publications in the mail, including M-654: The Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States, and M-76: The Citizen’s Almanac. These were now supplemented with M-767: Important Information for New Citizens.

Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed with all the documents. I find it particularly striking that there’s such an emphasis on responsibilities of citizens, not simply rights. We are told that we have a duty to be informed about what’s going on in the world, and to participate in the democratic process. This all goes back to the principles the nation’s Founding Fathers believed in. For example, Madison wrote:

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

He’s probably spinning in his grave this election season, but still, the idea is one I agree with.

Another piece of paper in the big envelope had the words of the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance on it, as well as the better-known Pledge of Allegiance and the words of the Star-Spangled Banner. For those who don’t know, the Pledge of Allegiance was invented to encourage flag sales, and sure enough we were each handed a small flag to wave.

I was feeling jittery and impatient as the first part of the ceremony started around 13:00. As part of the fun, a USCIS representative read out the names of the 60-or-so nations people were leaving behind. We were asked to stand as our nations of origin were named, and remain standing. We were told that there were around 211 people at the ceremony that day. I stood up near the end, what with the United Kingdom starting with U; but I had missed that one country had been discreetly omitted until the end. Mexico was named, and a whole bunch of people stood up to friendly laughter.

There was a musical interlude before the legal ceremony. A brass band played an eclectic selection; it being Texas, one tune they had chosen was the theme from “Rawhide”. Another more inexplicable choice was “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.

Around 14:00 a flag ceremony was carried out, and the room became an acting courtroom. We were led through raising our right hands and formally pledging sole allegiance to the United States of America, without reservation. As I’ve written before, I have no problem with this, as I’ve never really felt like a subject of Her Majesty the Queen.

And that was it. I was officially an American.

Having lived here for nearly 20 years, and having had months to think about the whole citizenship process, it wasn’t a shock. Still, jitteriness gave way to a complex mix of relief and excitement, with a trace of disbelief and a touch of tearfulness. I thought about my life, and how I came to be here, and wondered what (if anything) it all meant. And then I handed in my voter registration card, collected my certificate, and rejoined my wife to celebrate.

I decided the best way to celebrate immigration in Texas was to have Mexican food, so that evening we got together with some friends to celebrate.

For now, that’s the end of the story, though I imagine I’ll have more to say as I process it all.

The process of becoming a US citizen started, for me, with the renewal of my “green card” after 10 years as a permanent resident.

The renewal is more of a replacement. Once again I had to pay a few hundred dollars, wait for a few months, then turn up to be photographed, fingerprinted, and my paperwork processed.

One of the problems with my first application for permanent residence is that when I’m under stress, my hands break out in eczema. This is enough to totally confuse the digital fingerprint scanners, which will insist that the screen and my fingers need to be cleaned repeatedly. Eventually the USCIS agent had to override the software and accept all the “bad” scans. With the renewal, getting the replacement card was a formality, so my hands had been scannable.

Still, once that was done I had to wait for a few more months for the replacement card. In the mean time, I couldn’t leave the country. For this service, I paid a few hundred dollars. It was all such an expensive nuisance that I decided I really didn’t want to go through it again, and given the cost I should have planned better and applied for citizenship before the old card expired. I made a mental note that I would definitely apply for citizenship before the new card expired around 2023.

There the issue sat — until the Trump hit the fan, and Britain found itself heading up Brexit creek with a distinct lack of canoe propulsion equipment. Early this year I suddenly realized that there was a real danger of the next US President deciding on a knee-jerk whim to shut down naturalization, or even to deport or otherwise restrict large numbers of resident aliens. I hurriedly set plans in motion.

Applying for citizenship begins with USCIS form N-400. Most of the questions on the form were straightforward, at least for me. I could confidently assert that I was not a war criminal, I was not a member of any paramilitary organizations, and had never been involved in genocide, even casually. Those things are still true, by the way — definitely no plans for genocide here.

Next, question 9 on the form asked:

Have you ever been a member of, involved in, or in any way associated with, any organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society, or similar group in the United States or in any other location in the world?

If you answer yes, you are instructed to provide a list of all clubs, organizations, parties or societies you have ever been a member of, along with dates of membership.

Obviously I think I know what they’re going for there. Just in case the other questions weren’t enough to catch out wily bad guys, they wanted to know about all the political organizations I had ever belonged to — in the broadest possible sense of the term “political”. I don’t think they actually cared about whether I was a childhood member of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club or The Tufty Club. Joining the Boy Scouts would have involved a pledge of allegiance to God and Queen, but I had decided that wasn’t for me, so I was safe there.

Still, as with my application for permanent residence, I decided it was better to tell them things they almost certainly didn’t need to know, so I listed my membership in Greenpeace and Amnesty International. I also confessed my ongoing membership of the ACLU. I felt like I ought to get bonus points for that, given that it’s an organization whose entire purpose is defending US constitutional rights.

I breezed through a bunch more questions, then I hit number 22:

Have you ever committed, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit, a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?

Again, I think I understand the underlying intent, but that’s an awfully wide net to cast.

Jaywalking is technically a crime. Not quite making it back to the parking meter before the time expires is technically a civil offense in Texas. You recorded a mix tape for your girlfriend in 1986? That’s a breach of copyright law. One lawyer wrote a book discussing his estimate that the average American commits three felonies a day, and you can find lists of examples you might have committed. Once you add in non-felonious crimes like walking a dog on a leash more than six feet long, are you sure you’ve never committed any offense for which you were not arrested?

For example, as I was researching obscure laws in order to write this, I learned that Texas law requires that you always use the parking brake when parking. Until just now, I had no idea that was a law, and yes, I’ve parked the Prius on flat ground by putting it in “Park” mode, without using the separate mechanical parking brake.

Anyhow, as I was filling out the form, I pondered the crime question for a while. Eventually I concluded that there was an implicit missing clause: What it’s really asking is whether you’ve ever committed a crime or offense significant enough to be relevant to USCIS. They’re not really asking about your overdue library books or whether you always use the parking brake.

Personally, I’ve never been stopped by police in the US. I was once stopped by UK police, but they just asked me what I was doing walking through town at 4am, and I told them, and that was the end of it. I’ve never received a parking ticket or had my car towed. I’ve attended protests, but they’ve always been peaceful ones. I’ve seen the inside of a US jail cell, but only because my sister-in-law is a police officer in Minnesota and showed us the facilities. So I honestly don’t think I’ve ever committed any crime which would give the USCIS pause, and I said so.

A potentially tricky part of the form is listing every time you’ve traveled outside the country for the last 5 years. I remembered having trouble with that when I originally applied for the green card, because they checked my application against the stamps in my passport. For obscure, uninteresting and innocent reasons they hadn’t obviously matched, and I’d had to explain.

This time, it was pretty easy, as I hadn’t traveled overseas as much, and now that it’s 2016 I could easily get the precise dates by checking Evernote and looking at EXIF timestamps on my photos.

I finished filling out the form and sent everything off back in April. I was a bit concerned about how long it might take to process — Texas has seen a massive Trump-fueled surge in naturalization applications. It turned out, though, to be much faster than the green card process. I was notified in May that my interview would be in June. I’ve already written about the day of the interview, so next up I’ll write about the naturalization ceremony itself.

I was thinking about how an ordinary day would seem to me, from the perspective of the world of the late 1970s.

I have a video screen in my house that’s so large and such high resolution that it shows up the film grain on any movie shot on mere 35mm film. I’ve been to movie theaters where the screen took up less of my field of view; and unlike those old movie theaters, this screen doesn’t flicker.

With this video screen, I can watch any of over ten thousand movies and TV shows. I can call up whatever I want to watch at a moment’s notice, no need to leave the house or even load a disc.

I have a camera which will let me record movies, in better quality than a 1970s 35mm movie camera or professional TV studio camera. I can edit the movies as I wish, cutting and editing and putting in transitions, then upload the result to view on my screen — or make it available for my family to view, or even the entire rest of the world.

I can watch the movies other people have made and uploaded from wherever they are in the world. My nephew in England celebrating his birthday, a demo of some old computer someone’s restored, amusing parrot videos, news reports from TV stations around the world, you name it.

That’s already mindblowing enough to 1970s me, but here’s the kicker: I can do all of the above using the pocket sized portable computer I carry around with me.

If I’m not in the mood for video, I can read a book. Almost any recent book. Type in the title, tap a couple of buttons, and there it is on my pocket computer. Mind you, the screen’s a bit smaller than a paper book, so I might close the book, pick up my tablet, and open the same book there — exactly where I left off.

Maybe I feel like reading a magazine. I can choose from over 5,000 of those from around the world. German photography magazines, Canadian travel magazines, science, literary reviews, whatever. Comic books? 75,000 of those available at a moment’s notice.

One of my favorite bands from London put out a new album this month. I went to their web site and bought it directly from them, downloaded it in a minute or so in CD quality. I’d already listened to a couple of the tracks, because I can use my pocket computer to listen to any of over 35 million tracks available for streaming from the online service we subscribe to.

It’s not just consumerism. I can send a message to any of my friends and family, and they’ll get it a couple of seconds later at most, even if they are on the other side of the world. The message can be a photo, or even a video clip. Most places, I can make passable live video calls from my pocket computer.

There are millions of pages of information available to me at a moment’s notice. I can look up my location anywhere on earth and get at least a passable aerial view, and usually a map with landmarks. In cities, I can get lists of places near me or near any other location, search the lists, look at photos, pull up restaurant menus, find out about landmarks, read about local history, and so on. I can also submit updates to online information, again all via my handheld device. There are no network cables needed for my device to communicate with the world, it’s all wireless. It’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made real.

I’ve got a personal reference database too. I jot down reminders, ideas, anything I think I might need to be able to remember some day. Of course, not every piece of information is available on the worldwide computer network, and sometimes I encounter something useful on a piece of paper. When that happens, I can use my pocket computer to scan the paper and upload the scanned information to my database. As long as the scan is clean enough and the print is clear enough, the computer turns the picture into text so I can search the contents. Right now I’ve got a couple of thousand records in that database. If I want to know what I got my brother for Christmas in 2014, or when I last renewed a magazine subscription, I can pull up the info in seconds.

Another simple thing I can do with my pocket computer is look at any photograph I have ever taken, ever. Yes, it was a bit expensive and time consuming, but I scanned every legacy film photo at better-than-film resolution, since fortunately I had kept all the negatives. I also did my best to geotag and date stamp them too. The software does the job of indexing by person’s face, location, and date. When did I last visit Berlin? Tap a few keys, here’s a photo, check the date stamp.

So, what about the miracle device that lets me do all this? My pocket computer is comparable in power to the fastest supercomputer of the late 70s, the Cray-1. That computer was the size of a room and cost $8.86 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $32 million. My pocket computer — which, yes, also works as a phone — was $340. You can get one not quite as good for under $100.

Under $100 used to be an amazing price for a home computer, but that was $265 in today’s dollars, and now you can get a pretty good home computer for $9. Computers are so cheap now that they are literally given away. They’re put inside cables because it’s cheaper than building special-purpose hardware. In fact, the very term “computer” I’ve been using in this article is pretty much obsolete, because everything is a computer now.

My car is a computer. It shows me where I am on a map, using information from satellites and from watching the rotation and orientation of its own wheels. It’ll guide me places by talking to me and marking the route I should follow. And it’s a 10 year old car, some of today’s models can practically drive themselves, and that’s not even an exaggeration.

My camera is a pretty amazing computer too. It can recognize faces in the image and make sure it focuses on them. If I want to be in the photo, I can tell it to take a picture by winking at it. It can process the image to look like grainy B&W film, or a toy camera, or a painting. It has a database of its manufacturer’s lenses, so it can adjust the brightness of the image to remove vignetting and chromatic aberration.

I wear another computer on my wrist. It records my heart rate and how much I move, whether I’m walking, running, riding a bike, or whatever. It checks how much sleep I get each night. The computer in the bathroom scales records my weight and body fat. The information is all cross-referenced for me and available as numbers or graphs on my pocket computer. I can see my stress levels, monitor my weight, make sure I exercise frequently enough.

Seriously, this is incredible. All of it. It’s way beyond anything I saw in science fiction movies.