Reza's Travel Blog

Travels to Bombay and beyond...

October 27, 2005

U.S. Citizenship Sept. 2005

On September 16, eighteen years, one month and four days after arriving in Lawrence, Kansas, I became a U.S. citizen. The swearing in ceremony took place at the LBJ Presidential Library auditorium on the UT campus. It culminated a journey that began on August 12, 1987 at the University of Kansas, followed by graduate school at University of Texas at Austin, a one year hiatus in Seattle living with family and searching for a job, and finally the last 11 years in Austin, my home, my community and where I hope to remain for the foreseeable future.

The defining moment in the forty minute citizenship ceremony occurred when each of us stood as our country was named off by the immigration officer: 354 men, women and children from 74 different countries. Once we were all standing, the presiding judge read the Naturalization oath of allegiance. At the end of it we said, "I do."

Those two words were the bridge between our lives as immigrants and our new lives as U.S. citizens. We were now part of the American story of immigration that defines this nation.

I could not help to feel the happiness in the room that day. There was a man sitting in front of me whose excitement was infectious. He clapped at every opportunity, waved his flag, kept looking back to where his family was, beaming with joy. It was a moving ceremony: I had a lump in my throat most of the way through it. My friends who came to the ceremony said they were glad they did: it was a reminder of the original ideals of this country, an affirmation of the promise that it holds.

My immigrant story is part of the broader story of my family. My paternal grandfather's family came to Bombay from Shiraz (thus my name) as traders and businessmen and stayed. My maternal grandfather left Iran for Zanzibar, Tanzania to be a mullah. He returned to Iran in the late sixties, but most of his children - my aunts and uncles - are scattered all over the world. I have family in Canada, Australia, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. (in addition to India and Iran). They have all found homes in new countries, some following their hearts and some their desire for a better life.

I too have followed my family's wandering ways. My story began as a teen: I knew that I would come to the U.S. to study. I went to my father's alma mater - KU - and following that to grad school at UT. The winter before finishing grad school I was in Bombay, still uncertain about where I would go after I graduated. Communal riots erupted in Bombay and shocked me into seriously considering staying in the U.S. Although this was a defining moment of sorts, the U.S. had grown on me those first five years and remaining was my preference. I could have chosen to go back to Bombay: I have my family there and a foundation to make a good start on a life and career. But living in the U.S. appealed to me and over the years I have built a new life here.

I no longer live in India, but it is an intrinsic part of me and I remain close to my family there. In one sense, it is still my home, the place I grew up. Every time I see an Indian, or hear one speak, my eyes turn, my ears prick and I feel proud of where I came from. 18 years in the U.S. has shaped me and what I am now is an amalgam of east and west, of the past and present, a salsa masala mix of cultures, proud of the multiplicity within me.