Chapter XXII - Fighting For Citizenship
My daughter Helen graduated from Montclair State Teacher's College at the age of nineteen. (She was twenty a month later). She had secured a teaching job in Union, New Jersey.
My daughter Lee decided to work after high school graduation and obtained a job in an office.
Now there were only the younger ones, Richard and Marie, still in school.
After his period of convalescence Edward was sent to Germany. Germany had already surrendered and he was part of the occupation force. He spent a few months there until he became ill with an attack of asthma. He was flown home for treatment and shortly thereafter he was discharged.
During the war period a campaign for those of foreign birth to become American citizens had been intensified. Aliens were looked upon with suspicion and my husband urged me to make application for citizenship. He had acquired his citizenship in 1926. At the time, the law required that the wife had to have her own citizenship papers. I never felt myself less of a citizen than he, but I was too busy raising a large family to take time out to get the necessary papers. Now it was different. With two sons fighting the war and still a large family at home, I had to find time. My husband felt our security was threatened if I didn't, so I made application. There was a period of waiting before I was called with two witnesses to come for the examination. The questions were easy and I was sure I had passed the test. I was waiting to be called to take the oath of allegiance when a letter arrived. I was denied the right to become an American citizen on the grounds that I had failed the test. I would be called later for another examination. When I appeared for the second time before the examiner I was told that whatever I said would be held against me. I was questioned about my sentiments toward this country. I was also asked how my two sons who were in service felt towards this country. On my first exam I had stated that I would decline to fight on Italian soil, but my sons did not have the same feeling since they were born here.
I was asked what I had done to help the war cause. I said that
I worked, bought some bonds, donated metal scraps, took care of my family and wrote to my boys to keep their morale up.
Then I was asked again if I had changed my mind about fighting on Italian soil. I answered, "No," and I was dismissed. I was told that I would receive a notice about the decision.
About a year later I received notification that I was to appear again. Meanwhile I was having a hard time at home. My husband insisted that I should concede the point and get my papers because it was a formality. He was afraid that I would be deported. The children sided with him and I was told that I was stubborn and everyone would suffer because of me.
I went through a period of introspection and turmoil and could not find a solution to the dilemma. Should I negate my principle and admit that I was wrong? Should I consent to fight on my native land's soil and live in peace at home or should I hold to my belief and be at peace with myself?
To go for another examination was like going into a den of lions, and I was very miserable. I had been investigated and when my neighbors wanted to know what was wrong it was hard to explain. I had done nothing wrong and felt humiliated but one thing was crystal clear to me - the injustice of such a demand.
The file of my questions and answers had grown very large. I could see the examiner was sorry for me and he stated that it was not he but the law that required such an admission.
I opened the door of my home to face the enemy, my own family. My daughter Helen was especially angry since she did not understand my scruples and thought I was a stubborn mule. I looked everyone squarely in the face and said, "No, I did not agree to fight." I had failed again and I burst into tears.
My husband said, "You will be deported."
I said, "So I will. I will take whatever comes my way. I want to live in peace with myself."
Later I was informed that I had the right to appeal and I did appeal. In 1948 I was called to appear in court. My odyssey had lasted five years and I was resigned to accept whatever was to come. My family did not hold much hope that I would be accepted into the American family. I had never been in court before.
I sat halfway down the aisle. On the first day of my appearance in court I was not called. I went home dispirited and tired. On the second day I sat quietly and listened to cases. I was appalled by the lies that were told. A woman working in a diner said she had never heard discussion about the war, and a banker's wife stated the war was never discussed at home or with friends. During that period nothing dominated every day living more than the war. The press and the news on the radio continuously reminded us that we were fighting a frightful war.
A lady sitting next to me said, "is there anyone here with you?"
I said, "No."
She said, "Do you have a lawyer?"
I said, "No, what do I need a lawyer for? I have done nothing wrong."
She said, "God help you."
I was contemplating her words when my name was called. I got up and walked down the aisle. The district attorney approached me and said, "You are going to be the first case after lunch. Be here in time."
Then he asked if I had a lawyer representing me and I said, "No."
He said, "You are entitled to a defense. If you want a lawyer the court will assign one but your case will not be disposed of today."
I wanted the whole process to be over and done with once and for all. I answered, "I don't see why I need a lawyer, I haven't done anything wrong."
He replied, "I have to bring the case against you."
I answered, "That's your duty."
After the noon recess I walked to my seat. Shortly afterwards my name was called. I walked down the aisle. The bailiff told me to put my right hand on the Bible and he administered the oath.
I was instructed to stand directly in front of the judge's bench and the district attorney was asked to present my case. The judge listened attentively and asked if it were all true. I said it was. He said, "You don't want to fight to defend this country?"
I said, "it is not like that. I love America."
Then he invited me to sit next to him facing the audience. Then he asked me how many children I had. I answered, "Nine."
"How many grandchildren do you have?"
I said, "Fourteen."
"Did you do anything to win the war?"
I repeated what I had said in the report. I was asked if my sons in service felt the same way I did, and I answered, "No, they don't have the same attachment I have. Your honor, I was born in Italy. My parents are buried there. The people are suffering. I cannot bring more misery upon them."
The judge turned to the district attorney and said, "You have misjudged this woman. She would not hurt an animal on the street." Then he proceeded to ask me, "if there was an army of women would you serve on Italian soil?"
I said, "Your honor, I am too old to fight."
He said, "That is not the point. The law requires that you go out and fight."
I said, "If, today, I am given my citizenship here and tomorrow I move to another country and was asked the same question should I deny this country? What a good citizen I would be today." Then he asked, "If this country was invaded by the Italians would you defend this country?"
Something in me arose at the possibility of an invasion. I said, "I would fight with all I have. I would fight even against my own brother."
I could see that the judge wanted me to have the privilege of being admitted to the American family, but that he had to uphold the law. He asked me if I would fight if we were at war with another country. I said, "Yes." When he asked if I would consider fighting with an army of women I again said, "Yes."
I returned to my seat and waited to take the Oath of Allegiance and become an American citizen.
While I was answering the judge, the courtroom was silent. There wasn't a sound as everyone bent to listen to the discussion between the judge and myself. I sat on my seat exhausted and drained of all strength. The woman next to me said, "You were magnificent."
I did not feel magnificent. I did not feel anything except defeat. After the ceremony the courtroom emptied, and, in the corridor, people that I had never known before congratulated me for my performance. I did not feel happy. I felt dismissed.
At home there was anxiety because this was the last chance. Either I would be a citizen or I would not be. My face showed my anguish because I had betrayed my beliefs. No one questioned me, but all understood that now I would not be deported.
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