Category Archives: The United States

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is nearly over. I didn’t do too much this year– I wore my requisite green shirt, and striped green socks, and even drank a holiday themed beer in the evening, however overall the day was relatively low key, as P and I were both busy working on projects, shackled to our respective computers.

Conversely, P’s younger brother U was in Dublin, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in style with our Irish friend RH and our former neighbor D (who several months ago resettled in the Emerald Isle). U was periodically uploading pictures of his St. Patrick’s Day activities on Facebook, giving us a glimpse of what the party was like in the Irish-American “motherland.”

U, RH and D in Dublin

I’ve mentioned before that my family considers itself “Irish-American.” On my mother’s side my grandfather immigrated from Western Ireland (I believe in the 40s), and my grandmother’s parents were also both from that region of the country. On my father’s side the connection stretches back farther, but the family still takes pride in it’s “Irish-American” roots. As an “Irish-American” St. Patrick’s Day has always been an acknowledged and celebrated part of the spring calendar.

Growing up my father was part of an Irish-American club in the town, and I remember many childhood St. Patrick’s Days spent at the club helping to serve corned beef and cabbage dinners to townspeople who came by the hundreds every March 17th. Many of them probably considered themselves “Irish-American” as well but I’m sure others just wanted to join in the fun and celebrate along with their friends and neighbors.

We would watch Irish step dancers perform and listen to recordings of Irish pub songs that relied heavily on accordions and fiddles. Everyone in the club was bathed in Kelly Green… shirts, pants, dresses, socks, scarves. Some wore plastic shamrock shaped shot glasses hanging from green Mardi Gras bead necklaces, others wore headbands with cheesy shamrock antenna, and little kids often sported sparkly green shamrock stickers on their cheeks. As far as I was concerned, as a kid, everyone in the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.

Then in sixth grade I signed up for a youth magazine that had a pen pal section in the back. For several years I often responded to pen pal requests, and I advertised for pen pals as well. I had quite a few, some in the US, but also several from abroad– including one kid I exchanged several letters with from Singapore. He had responded to my pen pal request printed in the magazine, explaining he was of Indian origin and his name was Manuj. In response to the letter he sent I told him a little about myself, and talked about my excitement for St. Patrick’s Day, which was coming a few days later. In the letter I asked him about how he celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and what people do for the holiday in Singapore.

A few weeks passed and I received a letter back that contained shocking information for the sixth grade version of me… “We don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Singapore, as there are not a lot of Irish people here. Since my family is from India, we have never done anything for St. Patrick’s Day, but it was interesting to hear what your family does.” It was one of those “aha” moments for me that made me realize that other parts of world really are different.

After meeting our Irish friend, I’ve had several other “aha” moments about my understanding of “Irish-American” culture, and how it differs from “real Irish” culture– including my name. I think I mentioned this before, but I always thought my first name was a super-uber Irish name, but later realized (and this really shook up my world!) that my name is only popular in Irish-diaspora cultures like the US and Australia, and hardly anyone in Ireland proper has my name because it is a gaelic noun.

I think RH had similarly strange “aha” moments (I am assuming, he can correct me if I am wrong) after coming to the US for his graduate studies. Many Americans, particularly in New England which is a large “Irish-American” stronghold, had a lot of stereotypical views of what an “Irish” person was supposed to be like, and RH often didn’t adhere to their expectations.

So when U decided to travel to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day RH was a little worried that U would be disappointed. St. Patrick’s Day is often an excuse for people in the US to go a little crazy, drinking green beer and sharing their Irish pride all over the place… but these crazy celebrations are often in Irish-diaspora cities. Dublin has a parade and celebrations, but RH worried that U might expect the biggest St. Patrick’s Day party ever, the granddaddy of them all, so to speak.

It seems from the pictures that the festivities were fun, and U had the “authentic” Irish St. Patrick’s Day party he was hoping for.

If you are interested in learning more about the creation of “Irish-American” cultural identity NPR had an interesting 45 minute radio program on Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” the other day called “How the Irish became American” arguing, in part, that “Irish-American” identity was one of the first hyphenated identities in the US. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Hope you all had a nice day… whether you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day or not :)

Musing on Gas

My blogging ebbs and flows, depending on what is going on in life, how busy work tends to get, and if I need a distraction. Even if I’m not a super consistent writer (although I try), I’m usually lurking on other blogs, and when I get really hooked on one and all of a sudden there hasn’t been a post in a few weeks (or months) I find myself thinking, “Come on!” [in the voice of GOB] “Where did this blogger go… I miss them!

Alas, as of late, I’ve become one of those absentee bloggers. Je suis très désolée.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, I just sometimes lose the motivation to sit down and put it together in a post. I have a bad habit, during dark chilly New England months, of burying under blankets in the evening and reading good books. Perhaps I was a hibernating creature in another life.

So, to transition in to writing a little bit more, I decided to share an amusing story from the weekend.

January 15th is P’s western calendar birthday (his Nepali calendar birthday was near the beginning of January, and like every year he didn’t know it was happening until he got a call from his parents one night wishing him a happy birthday) and this year it was also the Nepali holiday of Maghe Sankranti. I’m not totally clear on the details of this specific holiday (although the ever handy Wikipedia gave me a better idea), other than it marks the start of the Nepali month of Magh and the passing of the unlucky month of Poush, and that on this holiday you eat boiled cassava and purple colored sweet potato that can only be found locally at the Vietnamese grocery store.

This year, as last year, S-di invited our local crew over to her place for the day. Between S-di, M-dai and his wife’s cooking there was much to be had—the required boiled cassava and sweet potato, sel roti, a giant bowl of homemade ghee, sesame sweets, rice, taarkari, chicken, etc.

And as usual, we went to her house thinking that we would only stay for a few hours… and we wound up being there for eight or nine. After our bellies were full, and M-dai, Bhauju (M-dai’s wife), S-di, P and I were settled on the couch under cozy blankets, we spent time chatting and M-dai told a funny story.

M-dai grew up in a village up in the hills of Okhaldhunga district. When he was a kid there was a Peace Corps volunteer who worked at his school. He even remembered the volunteer’s name… “Spike.”

Anyway, they used to find this foreign teacher really interesting. He was quite different from the rest of them in various ways, but he had this one habit that all of the students found really bizarre—he used to fart in public like it was no big deal.

Now one could speculate. Maybe this guy was a bit of a bum, and he would have farted in public anywhere, including in the US. Or maybe the combination of Nepali food, a different altitude, and intestinal bugs continually agitating his GI tract, left him with no choice but to let loose, or else be plague by terrible gas pains (hey, it could happen). Yet it’s also possible that maybe this guy simply thought passing gas wasn’t a big deal in Nepal—burping certainly isn’t, although apparently there is a different feeling about flatulence from the other end—and never thought much about doing it where ever he was, alone or with others.

Certainly Westerns fall into this mentality when it comes to clothing while traveling in the “developing world,” myself (formerly) included. Sometimes even the most “culturally interested” or “attuned” just fail to realize things. I used to think that when walking through dirty, dusty streets, or living in a village, it didn’t really matter what you looked like. I’m not really one to get really dressed up in general, but I wouldn’t bring my “nicer” clothes on my study trips to Kenya or India, in part, because I was worried about “ruining” them, but also I just figured there wasn’t really a need to bring them. Even before my time in Kenya was over, I was starting to catch on and dress a little more “East African chic,” but it wasn’t until my embarrassing first clothes buying experience with P’s family in KTM that I really realized that in the “developing world” (and, let’s face it, most of the rest of the world outside of America) clothing is more formalized than back home. When you go out, you dress up, period—whether it’s for school, going to a party, going to a friend’s place, going for dinner, going to the market. It’s simply not acceptable to show up in a shabby pair of shorts and a dusty t-shirt, even if you sit next to a goat on the minibus you take to your friend’s house!

So maybe this guy thought the same way about farting—hey, it’s the “developing world,” people burp, I’m not in America where they have social etiquette rules about this, I feel gassy, and I’m going to let it go. According to M-dai this guy would fart all the time, including while he was standing in front of his class, and the students just couldn’t believe it.

“Sure people fart.” M-dai said, “But not in front of others, and certainly not in a formal situation like a class, or in front of elders!”

So from this early ambassador to American culture, the young M-dai thought that in America it was acceptable to fart at any time, that there were no social taboos in the US about doing so in public.

When he came for graduate school in Massachusetts five years ago he was shocked to discover this wasn’t the case! ;)

Christmas Cookies!

Over the weekend P and I had our (5th!) annual Christmas party. You can read about the 2010 party HERE and the 2009 party HERE.

To take a different angle this year I was going to write about the annual cookie baking prep for the party, but as usual I was in a rush, and with the clock ticking and my hands covered in dough, I didn’t take any pictures.

As a compromise I decided to share some of my favorite cookie recipes to make up for the lack of beautiful pictures.

I’ve written before about how my own mother wasn’t very big in to (or super good at, sorry mom) cooking or baking–in part because she didn’t learn much from her own mother, who in turn didn’t learn much from hers, because my great-grandmother, having spent much of her young adult life as a cook for JD Rockefeller, was sick of cooking by the time she had my grandmother and never really taught her. Even though my mother wasn’t that great at cooking, she did try… probably because my dad was used to homemade foods from his side of the family. For a few years my mother experimented with homemade apple sauce, and she had a good recipe for apple crisp, and an occasional apple pie. Yet when it came to cakes and brownies they were all “from a box,” and cookies were often made instantly with refrigerated Pillsbury dough (like the kind that comes in a tube and comes pre-designed with red or green dye in the center).

As I’ve also mentioned before, when I moved to Massachusetts I was asked by several new Nepali women friends if I could teach them to make “American desserts.” Since much of my experience was of the boxed variety, I decided to do some recipe sleuthing, and find some tasty things to try.

Before the end of summer I baked my first homemade brownies. Our first Thanksgiving I whipped out my paternal grandmother’s pumpkin and apple pie recipes. And by Christmas I was in full cookie baking mode. I invited several women over, we pulled our kitchen table out from the wall and covered it in aluminium foil, and baked cookies like there was no tomorrow. Since then, this has become a bit of a tradition– I make a ridiculous amount of cookies, and then serve them at our Christmas party a day or two later.

Every year P asks my why I do this– spend money on boxes of butter, and different flavored extracts and packages of sugar– I think he thinks its silly. Yet Christmas cookie time only comes once a year so you are allowed to go a little crazy! At least that’s the excuse I give :)

Last year I made 9 different types, but this year I was a little less ambitious and only made 7. Here are some of my favorites:

Double Lemon Delights

Double Lemon Delights (great with a cup of tea in the morning!)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 to 5 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)

2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; set aside. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, 1 tablespoon lemon peel and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beat in flour mixture until well blended.

3. Drop 2 tablespoons of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten dough until 2 inches in diameter with bottom of glass that has been dipped in additional sugar.

4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are just set and edges are golden brown. Cool completely.

5. Combine powdered sugar, lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon peel in small bowl; drizzle mixture over cookies. Let stand until icing is set.

Makes between 1-2 dozen.

Irish Soda Bread Biscuits

Irish Soda Bread Biscuits (also tasty with tea, sensing a pattern? Plus I needed a nod to my heritage ;))

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 tablespoon of lemon juice)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)

2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. In seperate bowl mix butter and sugar until well blended then add the dry ingredients.

3. Mix in egg, pour in milk and mix with fork to make a soft dough, add raisins.

4. Knead into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour. Dough is very sticky and this helps make handling a little easier.

5. On a floured surface roll out dough and either cut into 2 inch squares or triangles, or– use cookie cutters to make fun shaped biscuits (this is what I do!)

6. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until slightly brown.

Makes about 36.

Cranberry Orange Biscuits (also good with tea!)

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened 
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, cream together the white sugar, brown sugar and butter. Stir in the egg, orange juice, orange extract, and orange zest.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; mix into the orange mixture. Stir in the dried cranberries.

4. Drop cookie dough by heaping teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart, on prepared cookie sheets.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are starting to brown. Cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen

Cinnamon Polar Bears, photo from baking last year...

Cinnamon Polar Bears

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • small amount of powdered sugar
  • mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • red cinnamon candies (or if you can’t find these, “Hot Tamale” candies cut in half)

1. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat well. Add flour and cinnamon; blend well. Cover dough with plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour for easier handling.

2. Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). For each cookie, shape dough into 1 inch ball; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly. Shape dough into 3 (1/4 inch) balls. Place 2 of the balls above and touching larger ball for ears and 1 ball on top to resemble snout. Flatten slightly.

3. Bake for 11-15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Lightly sprinkle cookies with powdered sugar. Press 2 chocolate chips into each cookie for eyes and 1 cinnamon candy for nose.

Makes 2-3 dozen.

Name Changer

First of all I apologize for how this post probably rambles on. I’ve wanted to write about my name for a while, and I’m probably trying to cram in too many thoughts at once, please bear with me. Also I don’t mean to offend anyone, or pass judgments on anyone’s particular choices. Everything in here is my own opinion and highlights choices made specifically for me and my situation. My intention is not to preach to anyone, just explain the thinking behind how I got to where I am with my own name.

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to clarify: Both my first and last names start with C. P is in the same boat, with a first and last name that start with the same letter. So I started out at “C C” and now I am “C C-P,” and P is “P P.”

I recently received our first Christmas card of the season and the envelope was addressed to “C and P” without any last name. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. I’m sure we will get all sorts of name variations on our holiday mail this year, because when we got married I decided to hyphenate my last name. I believe I’m the first person in my family to have done this, so I can imagine that many will be confused at what the protocol is for addressing an envelope when the wife decides to buck the trend, even though I’ve been putting “C-P” as our return address for the past two years.

From a very young age I felt strongly about my last name. Perhaps it’s because my dad has three daughters and no sons who could traditionally “carry on the family name,” and I think he always imagined that his branch of the “C’s” would end with him. Or maybe I’ve always been stubborn with an acute sense of how I perceive my identity; but anyway, I never understood why a man intrinsically got to keep his name while a woman spent part of her life as one name and the rest as another. Something about it just irked me to the core.

However, ironically, I also admit that I was equally annoyed as a child when movie stars who I knew were married didn’t somehow share a semblance of a name to publicly show their familial tie. I always felt that without some sort of name connection the family lacked a sense of unity, or wasn’t as committed to each other.

I didn’t know how to rectify this in my mind. Growing up in a fairly conservative place, I didn’t really have classmates with different naming conventions. I didn’t know what options were available to me, or that options even existed! As I said before, my family always followed the pattern of a new wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage.

Then in high school my parents began their long messy divorce. I remember feeling strange for my mom… that she was now saddled with her married “C” last name which she elected to keep as a visible sign of her connection to her kids, even though she didn’t want to be connected to my dad anymore. I’m not sure if she ever thought about it, but I certainly did… that her last name could act as a constant reminder of the husband she no longer had. By no means am I saying that I’d want to keep my name in case I’m ever divorced (heaven forbid!) so that I can retain my maiden name without much difficulty, but it was something to think about when I was at a formative age.

It also struck me that I didn’t have the same relationship with my mother’s maiden name—“M”—that I had with my own last name. Of course I always thought of the M’s as my family too, but I was never an “M” in the same sense as I was a “C” (not meaning I was closer to one family or the other, it’s just I felt more like the name “C” represented me as an individual more than the name “M” did). It saddened me to think that if I had children and didn’t pass along my name in some form, then my potential future children might have that same noncommittal feeling about my name as I have about my mother’s.

Then one of my mother’s younger sisters got married when I was a freshman in high school. She was a corporate lawyer, a high powered go-getter, someone with a strong personality who married in her thirties so she had a long life as a “M” before marriage. I was totally shocked when she took her husband’s name without batting an eye. Of anyone in my family I thought for sure she would be different, times had changed. I was almost offended, why was this strong woman deciding to change how she is identified to the world simply because she married a man?

A few years later, I was sitting next to my aunt’s daughter, a blunt eight year old, who asked me what P’s last name was. “So you will be Mrs. P after you get married?” she asked me. “No.” I told her. I could see by the expression on her face that my answer completely caught her off guard. “Why not? What else could your name be?” she asked. “Ms. C-P” I explained. It seemed to be a completely new concept for her.

A Colombian student of mine put it nicely one day… most people from Spanish speaking cultures have two last names because one is from the mother and one from the father: so for example a person named Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a father whose last name was “Sanchez ______” and mother whose last name was “Rodriguez ______”.

Anyway, this student of mine didn’t really understand what “maiden name” meant on immigration forms so he would put “Rodriquez” as his maiden name and “Sanchez” as his last. I told him that people in the US would interpret this to mean that he was a) a woman and b) married if he filled out forms in that way. This launched us into a long discussion of last names in the US. Even though he had been living here for several years he hadn’t realized that most Americans only have one last name, from their father’s side, he just assumed they went by one of their two names for simplicity in a class room situation. At one point he declared “But, with only one name that’s like they are an orphan on their mother’s side!” I kind of liked that line of thinking.

As a college student I decided that if I were to marry someday I would want to hyphenate because it seemed to be the best of both worlds—my name and my husband’s name—my identity, and his, with family continuity on both sides. I remember having quite a few heated debates with people about my plan. People told me that hyphenated names were “pretentious,” or too long, or confusing. That a kid would never be able to spell such a name in kindergarten. I think it was the hyphen in particular that annoyed people, but I thought that without the hyphen it would be all too easy to drop the “C” or for people to assume that “C” was a middle name and not a last name, that it would be easier to mess things  up. I thought for alphabetizing purposes a hyphen made it easier because the names were connected, so something would have to be filed under the first “C.” It made more sense to me.

“But what about your kids?” someone asked once, “If you give them the same double/hyphen name as yours, what happens if your kid’s future spouse also wants to hyphenate? Will you have grandkids with four last names? How ridiculous is that? Where does the madness end?” To that I can only answer that I made the decision for myself, and any potential future kids can ultimately make their own decisions about their own naming conventions.

As it became more apparent that my marriage partner would eventually be P, I was adamant about my choice, and the fact that any potential kids will also have the C-P last name (or P-C, at one point I said if he decided to take my name he could decide on the order). P was always fine with me keeping my C, that was never an issue. However I pressed for P to take on the C-P last name as well so that the entire family would share the same name, a stronger, more visible identifier of a family unit. At first he seemed cool with the idea, but after starting his phd program and having some publications under “P P,” and as our actual marriage got closer, he wanted to stick with just “P” for his last name.

He worried that if he changed his name people back in Nepal might find it “weird,” or that it might mess up his immigration documents, or his Nepali citizenship papers. He didn’t know the legal hoops he would have to jump through. I still encouraged the name change, but eventually figured he wasn’t going to budge. I had to be fair, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had continually pressed me to drop my C (which he never did), so I couldn’t keep pressing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When we applied for our marriage license he lingered for a few moments over the “name after marriage” question and I held my breath to see if he would change his mind, but eventually he filled it in “P” and looked up at me apologetically. Ah well.

Right before we got married I had briefly struggled with the idea of just keeping “C” instead of adding “P.” Many of the female international people I knew had kept their maiden names after marriage. This was due, at least in part, to having married in the US and not wanting to deal with changing over all their immigration documents to a new name. Many of my international students at work had kept their maiden names for the same reason—and all the Chinese students kept their names, since it was not a Chinese custom for a married woman to change her name after marriage. I had an American friend in my book club who had kept her name, and when she had a baby the baby’s last name was a hyphenated version of her’s and her husband’s name. I almost felt that by hyphenating I didn’t feel “progressive enough,” but then I would think back to the Hollywood actors that annoyed me as a kid, and realized that it was important to me to have both the names.

In particular I thought it was important to have P’s name as well as mine to denote the influence of South Asian culture in my life. Not everyone will recognize P’s name as South Asian, but those who do have a little bit more knowledge about me when I introduce myself. It kind of “breaks the ice” so to speak or gives me some South Asian street cred.

For example, a professor came to my office recently. I had sold something over the university email listserv and he was coming to collect the item. He noticed during our back and forth emails that part of my last name is “P” and he recognized it as different than the Irish sounding parts of the rest of my name. He was curious because even though he is just as “white bread” as I am, his wife is Filipino and he had known some Filipinos who had similar last names. He wanted to see if I also had a Filipino connection, and started by asking, “I don’t mean to pry, but I was interested in your name, what is its background?” It started a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the post-wedding transition has felt smoother for me since the “C” is still in my name. On occasion I forget to add the “P” when introducing myself (I’m getting better at it), but it’s easier to say, “I’m C C…… -P” instead of the more awkward sounding, “I’m C C—er—nope, I mean C P.” Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m C C-P” and I think, “maybe it does sound long and pretentious?” but ultimately I think I would have deeply mourned the complete loss of the “C” had I decided to change my name. I’m really happy with my decision. Now I just need to gently coax people to use my name correctly.

For my birthday this past August my mother sent me a card that was addressed to “Mrs. P P.” I decided to nip that trend in the bud from the get go. Perhaps it makes me sound like a psychotic control freak, but I called her up and said, “Hey mom, thanks for the card, I just wanted to ask you to please send me mail under the name ‘C C-P.’ I’m not ‘Mrs.P,’ and certainly not ‘Mrs. P P,’ I have my own name.” She brushed it off by saying, “Well, I was in a rush and it was faster to write that.” But I pointed out that in eight years of dating P and many years of living together it was never faster to write his name on my card before. She probably doesn’t really see what the big deal is, but I’m hoping the next time she sends something she will hopefully remember our conversation.

An article in the Huffington Post summed up my feelings about it (although the married couple in the example decided to change their name to a new name combining the two original last names, her sentiment on receiving the card is what I thought echoed my own):

Emily Zeugner, 32, who works in media in New York, and her husband, Amos Kenigsberg, made a similar decision — they changed their last name to Zeeberg.

Ms. Zeeberg explained that changing her name would have sent a message she wasn’t comfortable with, one that that effectively said, “I’m shedding my identity, I’m joining your family.”

“As a feminist, it really bugged me,” she said. “I’m glad that we created our new identity.”

After the two married, they received a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Amos Kenigsberg.

“I just saw the envelope, and I felt such annoyance, and on a small scale, kind of outraged,” she said. “He gets full billing and his full name, and the only thing I get is Mrs. It just really pissed me off.”

Similarly, friends of ours (the Bulgarian-American couple who got married a few weeks after us) in their newlywed excitement like to call up and say to me, “hey Mrs. P!” and I usually gently correct them, “it’s Ms C-P, how are you?”

Last night we received another Christmas card in the mail from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She made out the card to “C C-P and P P,” and I appreciated her efforts in keeping us all included. I guess the best short hand would be “C-P Family/Household” I guess we will see what people ultimately do. As long as I’m not the dreaded “Mrs P P” on an envelope I’ll probably be happy.

So that’s the story of how I became C C-P. What about other married (or soon-to-be married) couples? Did you change your name or keep it, or part of it? Did you follow a tradition, or make up your own? Is there a story as to why you decided to do what you did?

USCIS Round Eight… Green Card Interview

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven

Before I left my office I asked my boss, “Any last minute advice?”

“Don’t get mad at the interview. Try to separate everything that has happened and the interview itself.”

Probably wise advice.

As we were driving to the interview P echoed my boss’s sentiments, “Try not to say too much.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you like to say too much sometimes, give too much background, and tell the whole story. Let’s just keep it simple. This person doesn’t need to know the whole saga. We don’t need to complicate things.”

I guess that was true too.

We got to the Lawrence office, walked through the metal detector, and up to the counter where a man with small glasses and a plaid shirt was sitting at reception (I thought back to my comment to Extension 7654 Man about the woman with gray hair, and wondered if she was the regular person or a substitute. Maybe he thought I was telling a story?) I told the reception guy, “We had an appointment for 9am, but it was rescheduled for 1pm today, here is our original notice.”

He looked at the schedule and said, “Yep, rescheduled, please have a seat around the corner in the waiting room and the agent that will help you will call your name.” He started walking away with the interview notice in his hand and I called out, “Do we need that? Will we get it back? Should we have a photocopy?”

“No, it goes in your file and the agent uses it. You no longer need it.”

“Okay.” I said, and wondered if I was asking too many questions, or if I looked anxious or suspicious. I didn’t want anything to screw up our chances.

P and I sat in the waiting area. There were several others already there, including a college-aged-looking Asian man dressed in a black suit.

“Some people are really dressed up, huh?” P said, looking down at the informal collared shirt and gray sweater he threw on in the morning. I was wearing pants and a shorter kurta top with pote and sweater, something I threw on thinking I was just going to the office for the day.

We waited about half an hour. Every time an “agent” came to the door I held my breath to see if they would call “P P?”

Finally a large white woman with short brown hair called P, and we both got up and walked over to the door.

“Do you want both of us, or just one of us?” I asked.

“I’ll just bring you back first.” She said to me, “Then I’ll call P later. Please bring all your documents.”

I started worrying again. I was thinking too much about everything. I thought, Maybe they need to bring me back first because they found a problem with my record? I had to submit three years’ worth of tax paperwork as part of the application, maybe they found an exemption I did wrong a few years ago, or a misfiled piece of paperwork?

I walked back to the woman’s office and she had me raise my right hand and swear an oath that everything I was going to say was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. “Yes,” I responded, “Um, so help me god? Or, um, just yes?”

Breath C, chill out.

The woman smiled and opened the file. She asked to see my driver’s license, and asked me my name and address, verified my social security number and mine and P’s place of work, checking each answer off on my application with a red pen.

“I see you got married here and abroad?” she asked. I had included pictures of both our July 9th Nepali wedding and our July 10th American wedding as proof of our real marriage (instead of a fake marriage for immigration documents) in our Green Card application, but was careful to label everything on the 9th as a “cultural wedding” and everything on the 10th as a “legal wedding.”

“No—we got married only in the US, we did both Nepali and American ceremonies but both in Massachusetts. July 10th was our legal wedding where we signed our paperwork.”

The woman used her red pen to check something else off the application, “Ah yes, I see. So, how did you meet?”

We went to undergraduate together, and have known each other a long time.”

“And where was that?” she asked. I answered and she checked more things off the application with her pen.

“Did he propose marriage to you, or did you just get married one day?” This question made me nervous. As an international student advisor I know that F-1 student visas are non-immigrant intent, so I know if (technically) your intention to immigrate changes—such as proposing marriage to an American citizen— then you can’t really leave the country and come back in the same F-1 status. But our engagement was so long, P had traveled a few times. I took an oath, so I knew I couldn’t lie, but I was also worried this question would get us in trouble, and I knew if I said something different then the truth, if they asked P the same question and he answered it differently, then we would be in trouble anyway.

“He informally proposed in 2008 while on a cross-country road trip. We were in Arches National Park, Utah. But we were together for a long time after that without any concrete marriage plans until just recently.” Even though the “informal” part was stretching the truth a little, I hoped that this answered the question well enough. I felt my stomach doing flip flops.

Her: “Do you have any additional documents or proof of marriage you want to show me today?”

Me: “Everything I have in my own file is a photocopy of all the documentation in your file. We have a CD of wedding photos if you want to see it, and extra notarized copies of our marriage certificate, but otherwise you have everything. Do you need to see anything else?”

Her: “Do you have any extra passport photos of yourself for the immigration file?”

I didn’t even think of extra passport photos, but luckily when I got my picture taken for the original application I printed a few extras so I would have one for my Nepali visa, and additional pictures on hand just in case. I pulled out two photos and handed them over. Then I remembered why they needed photos of me… they used the only one I had attached to the application to put on P’s Advanced Parole. She didn’t say anything about that, and I didn’t either. I remembered P’s advice and bit my tongue.

“Thank you C, please wait here while I go get P.”

I sat for a few minutes while she went to the waiting room and returned with P. My stomach was still doing backflips as P sat down.

“Can you please tell me your name and address and verify your social security number?” She asked P, check marking things off our application with her red pen.

“Can you tell me your wife’s birthday?” Red check. Good boy.

“Where did you live before your current address? When did you move to your current address? Where did you live in 2006?” Red check, red check, red check.

“Are you working? Where are you working?” Two more red checks.

She asked P the long list of crazy questions that he already answered in his I-485 PR application, looking him in the eye as he answered, and checking them off as she went. The questions included things like:

Do you intend to engage in espionage in the United States?

Do you intend to engage in any activity that would attempt the control or overthrow of the US Government?

Have you ever ordered, incited, called for, committed, assisted, helped with, or otherwise participated in a) acts of torture or genocide, b) killing any person, c) engaging in any kind of sexual contact or relations with any person who was being forced or threatened? d) limited or denied any person’s ability to exercise religious beliefs?

Have you ever been a member of a vigilante unit, rebel group, guerrilla group or militia?

The list goes on, but it’s almost comical to hear these things asked of P, whose nature is so gentle. I also thought about people who might make an application to the US that do fall in these categories, like former child soldiers… do they say yes? What’s the follow up question?

Once the lady was satisfied with all her red check marks she smiled, shut the file and said, “I am recommending that your Permanent Residency application is approved. It will be approved from today, although you will not receive the card for up to 4 weeks in the mail. Two years from today you will have to file a renewal since an initial family based permanent residency application is conditional, then you can reapply for a ten year card. Three years from today, if you so wish, Mr. P, you will be eligible to apply for US citizenship.”

And just like that, everything was over. The application was approved.

She collected P’s I-94 card, his EAD work authorization that we received while in Nepal, and the stamped Advanced Parole document that created so much drama in the past month. She put all these things in his file, smiled again and stood up. “You are all set.” And lead us out of her office into the waiting area.

I felt so jovial in the car… such a huge release. I guess kind of like when a woman is giving birth— while in labor she feels so much pain, and thinks “this is crazy, never again, how can I do this?” but then once the baby is born, all the pain of the labor is nearly forgotten—if the mothers out there reading can forgive my comparison—I almost felt similar, like, I’m so happy we have the card, I don’t even care about all the other frustrations leading up to it now that we have it!

[Although, as my boss recommended, I plan to write a letter to the USCIS ombudsmen about this experience.]

We drove home; planning a celebratory dinner at a new restaurant in town (we still don’t have electricity from the storm anyway).

When I got back to the office my boss said, “So? Did you get it?”

“Yes! I feel so relieved!”

“And they stamped his passport with the temporary authorization until his card comes in the mail?”

My eyes grew wide, “I don’t think they did anything to his passport except take out the I-94 card.” I ran out to the car and pulled out P’s passport and flipped through every page. No new stamps. I showed the passport to my boss.

“Maybe they don’t do that anymore.” He tried to comfort me, “But if you think about it logically, they collected all his documents, right? His I-94 [which proved his legal entry into the US], his Advanced Parole [which also proved his legal entry and immigration status in the US], and his work permit. So right now on paper P has no legal status. He can’t prove to anyone he has Permanent Residency other than you saying, ‘USICS told us he does!’ until the card comes in the mail in up to 4 weeks, and with your luck, it will definitely be 4 weeks.”

The immigration lawyer we know at work was out on Monday, but we called him on Tuesday to double check. Apparently USCIS stopped stamping temporary Permanent Residency into passports a few years back because there was too much fraud, and that USCIS actually does leave you without any documented proof of your status until your Green Card comes in the mail. If P got a new job tomorrow, he couldn’t prove to the company that he is eligible to work, even though he is. My boss advised me not to have P tell his university that he has a Green Card until it comes in the mail, because they could potentially make him stop working and stop paying his research stipend until it comes.

My sister had other advice, “Just don’t go to Arizona.”

So—P is now a Permanent Resident in the United States, although we have to wait a little longer for documented proof.

I’ll let you know when it arrives.

USCIS Round Seven… “But I saw it with my own eyes!”

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven, Round Eight

Yesterday morning P and I woke up, got ready, and at 7:35 (I gave the USCIS office staff 5 minutes to get inside, take off their coats, get a cup of coffee and boot up their computers) I called the Lawrence USCIS Field Office.

When I called on Friday afternoon I heard a recording that stated their business hours were 7:30am-3:30pm Monday through Friday, so I figured that was why I got the recording (It was 3:31pm on Friday). However I got the same recording at 7:35 Monday morning. I slowed down and listened to the whole message and realized that it gave me 4 options: 1) if I had someone’s direct extension we could dial it and potentially reach a real human being, 2) if we had to schedule an appointment we could call the 1-800-misinformation number, 3) if we had information about something suspicious I could call a different number, or 4) if we don’t fit into any of these categories, tough luck.

After listening two or three times I realized that “Terry” from Friday afternoon did not give P a direct extension, so even though we had a phone number to this impenetrable office we were still stuck.

I wasn’t sure what to do, so in a stroke of crazed frustration/genius I said to P, “Let’s start dialing random extensions to see if we can get a real person.”

I first tried “0” for a potential operator (that works for some numbers) then I tried “1,” “11,” and “111” to see if that might get us into a phone tree, or perhaps give me an idea of the number of digits in an extension. After a few four digit combos I finally pressed “7654” and Hallelujah, the phone rang!

A man picked up the phone and said, “USCIS, how can I help you?”

What I probably should have done was ask for “Terry” from Friday, but instead I briefly launched into my story about how we had a Green Card interview scheduled for Oct 31st at 9am and we got a call at the very end of the day Friday October 28th saying that my husband’s immigration file had been “misplaced” and that our interview “might” have to be rescheduled.

“I’m not sure where this leaves us or what to do next!” I said, “We didn’t have an extension and got your number through random chance, but I was hoping you could help give us some insight.”

The man said he would check the system and put me on hold for five minutes. Then he came back on and said, “Our computers show that your husband’s immigration file was never at our office. The appointment will have to be rescheduled once we receive his file.”

Whoa, wait a minute, never in their office? I knew with 100% certainty that this was not true.

“But sir, I was at the Lawrence Office on October 11th with a different issue and I spoke to someone with my husband’s file. He had P’s file right in front of me, and we looked through it at the front desk together. I know it was there. I saw it with my own eyes.” (I kept repeating this last phrase, hoping it would make the man on the phone realize that his computer was wrong, but it probably just made me sound crazy.)

“I’m sorry ma’am, but our computers have no record of his file ever being here, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“But I know that’s wrong! I saw it with my own eyes!

He sighed and said, “I don’t know what to tell you, the computer says…”

“Okay… I understand that perhaps the file might not be there now, but it was there on October 11th. I just want to know maybe what happened to it. If it was sent back to the USCIS National Benefits Center, or if it has been misplaced within your office, or something.” I could tell I was starting to lose the guy on the phone, so I tried to think of every detail… “When I walked into the Lawrence office on October 11th, I went through the metal detector, and spoke to the woman with gray hair at the front desk and showed her the UPS tracking number sent to me by USCIS for what I thought was an envelope with an immigration document delivered erroneously to your office for my husband. The packaged was signed for by someone named O’Gorman. The front desk woman went and got that guy from the back, and he said the tracking number USCIS gave me was actually for a 15 pound box full of immigration files and he got a man who he described as the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ to come out and answer my questions. The ‘Number 2 man’ had my husband’s file with him and we looked at it together. If you find Mr. O’Gorman, or the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ I’m sure they will remember this incident since I think it’s relatively unusual. Do you know who the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ is?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “Can you describe him?”

“He was pretty non-descript. Medium height, brown hair, I don’t think he had a mustache, maybe glasses. I remember he had a small dark mark like an ‘x’ near his right thumb, like a tattoo or something, but maybe it was marker, I don’t know. That’s all I noticed about him was the mark on his right hand.”

“I don’t know anyone with a small tattoo on his hand.” He said.

“I don’t know his name!” I cursed myself for not asking him when I was there, or making note of more details, I pride myself on remember details. The more I tried to see his face, the more it looked blurry in my memory. “But find O’Gorman. I know his name, it was on the UPS tracking slip. He should be able to tell you.”

The guy told me to hold for a bit, and then he put me on hold—with cheesy elevator music in the background—for an hour.

Meanwhile P and I were getting ready. I was already late for work, and we debated between staying in the house and finishing the conversation (P’s vote—“What if they find it and we have to leave immediately for the interview?”) and heading out the door for work while still cradling my cell phone between my ear and my shoulder because the phone call wasn’t getting us anywhere and there was no point missing work if nothing would happen (my vote). As we started heading out the door I asked P to try and call Extension 7654 again  on his phone to see if someone would pick up the same line so we could figure out what was happening, but no one did.

When you are on hold for so long its tough, because you don’t know what is happening on the other end. I was simultaneously imagining a trio of high level staffers standing over the “on hold” phone having a serious conversation about the gravity of losing a file and brainstorming a solution, and  a bunch of staffers chatting “The Office” style around a water cooler with coffee mugs talking about the big snow storm over the weekend and giggling about Halloween costumes.

P and I got in the car and I dropped him at a coffee shop near his work while I borrowed his cell phone to try different extensions when he was inside buying tea (for him) and hot chocolate (for me). I started dialing numbers up and down from the extension that worked. No one was picking up the phone, although they were all ringing. Finally someone did pick up, a guy with an accent.

“Hello USCIS.”

“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, I called an hour ago to extension 7654 with a question about our immigration interview that was set for today, but I have been on hold for an hour. Is there some way to know what is happening? Should I hang up? Could you check with that extension?”

The guy barked back at me, “We don’t answer immigration questions over the phone. You have to come to our office to find out information.”

“I understand.” I said, “But I have been on hold with your office for an hour. Someone was going to answer the question but disappeared…”

I said you have to come to our office. We do not answer questions over the phone!

“I understand but…”

Click.

He hung up on me! I wanted to cry again. I just wanted to know why I was on hold. Stupid bastards.

I hung up both P’s phone and my phone that had been listening to the same elevator music for an hour and cracked the crook in my neck.

P came back with my hot chocolate and I told him what happened. I said I’d keep calling the extension I had back every hour if I had to in order to figure out what was going on. P, always less emotional and considerably calmer than me, told me that we would sort it out, and not to worry. I dropped him and Sampson off at work and drove off toward my office.

We had a freak snow storm over the weekend that left 12 inches of snow, and knocked down a bunch of trees and tree branches. A fair chunk of the city was without power (ourselves included). As I drove across the city, it looked like a war zone. I dodged tree branches while dialing back the number and extension of the guy who had me on hold for an hour and left a message for him to call me back as soon he heard something (please, please!)

When I got in to the office my boss was curious to hear more about what had happened (being that we both work with USCIS as international student advisors). I explained and he chuckled saying, “It’s not funny, but you know, when you went to their office on October 11th I bet they pulled that box out of their normal processing queue and that’s why P’s file isn’t logged in to the computers, then when they put P’s file back, the box got wedged in a corner somewhere. I bet they have a bunch of files missing right now, because you messed up P’s file and all the others in the box too!”

“So do you think it is probably at the office?” I asked.

“I bet it is, they just don’t know where, and maybe they don’t realize they have it.”

Half an hour later P called saying he finally got back in touch with “Terry” from Friday and she said that they were trying to “track the package” and that it should be back in the office “in a few days.” P explained to her that he was having knee surgery on November 8th and the surgery was scheduled, in part, around the interview, and that if it was delayed too long it would be tough for him to come in with a cast, crutches, etc. He also explained that we called in the morning and were placed on hold for an hour.

“I’m terribly sorry that happened to you.” She said, “I don’t know why someone would put you on hold for an hour. And certainly, we can try to get you in before your surgery; you shouldn’t have to add that to your worries.”

I was getting ready to call back Mr. Extension 7654 when P called me back again, he said that “Terry” was able to (miraculously!) locate his file.

“You mean it was there the whole time?” I asked.

“I guess so.” He said, “They want us to come in today at 1pm for our interview.”

“Book it!” I said, and yelled out to my boss, “They found his file! I’m sorry I have to leave you, but we got to finish this!”

“I told you so!” my boss called back from the other room, “By all means go, let’s close the book on this issue.”

It was about 10:30 in the morning. I had to get home, get all the photocopies of our documents and application papers together, our passports, marriage certificate, wedding photos, anything that they could possibly ask for. I picked up P and off we drove for an hour to the Lawrence office…

And had we not been persistent pains-in-the-butt, our application might still be missing!

USCIS Round Six… Green Card File Apparently “Misplaced”

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven, Round Eight

For those of you following the “Great Green Card Saga of 2011,” USCIS surprised us with a new frustration right at the end of the day today.

As I noted before, P’s advanced parole was finally correctly delivered and I DHLed it to Nepal in time for him to catch his 10/19 evening flight out of KTM. I actually expected a big hassle at the airport when he went through the customs and immigration line on 10/20, but he breezed through with no issues. I thought that was a positive sign that our luck was changing. Why is it whenever I start to think things are going okay, I get whapped again by my bad-luck-juju?

P’s Green Card interview was set for October 31st at 9am at the same USCIS Field Office in Lawrence, Massachusetts that I drove to in Round Four. As a refresher, that was the time I went in search of a tracking number (that was wrong) which supposedly went to an envelope that held P’s advanced parole, but instead was the tracking number for a fifteen pound box that included P’s immigration file for his Green Card interview. I actually saw the file with my own eyes. The person from the office leafed through the file in front of me looking for P’s advanced parole. I could have reached out and touched it. I guess I should have grabbed it and run.

So anyway… we thought we were good to go. We are having a Bhai Tikka dinner tonight at our house, we planned to stay cozy inside for the weekend (our area is due for a snow storm on Saturday night!) and I had already taken half a day off of work on Monday morning so that P and I could drive the hour to Lawrence, do the interview, and hopefully be through this next set of hurdles.

But instead, a woman named Terry from the Lawrence office called P at 3:25pm on Friday afternoon to say, “We might have to reschedule your interview, we seem to have misplaced your permanent resident application file.”

Again, I’m utterly shocked. If I was as careless with my student records at my work, the Department of Homeland Security could take away the ability of my university to host international students.

“But my wife was there two weeks ago and she saw my file with her own eyes! Are you sure it’s missing?” P asked.

“We are unable to locate it at this time. We might have to cancel.”

He asked if I could call her back right away to explain how I had been there and seen the file, to see if it could help clear up the situation. She said that their office was closing in a few minutes, but said she would pick up the phone if we called right back, and she gave him the number.

He called me, explained the situation, and was on the phone for a grand total of 1 minute, I looked up the date I was at the office (October 11th) and P’s Alien # and called right back. The clock read 3:30pm exactly.

I got the office’s automated voicemail saying that it was closed for the day.

What the eff again!

So now we have to wait all weekend, call the office at 7:30 in the morning on Monday, and try to figure out what is going on/beg them to do the interview. I can’t believe they messed up again. And the extra stinky part is—P is having knee surgery on November 8th, so if they delay too much longer we will be trekking to Lawrence with crutches and a cast after the surgery.

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit upset with USCIS again. Happy Friday.