If you’re a longtime subscriber to my daily travel tip newsletter, then you probably know that I met my beautiful wife on a press trip back in 2006. She was the digital editor at a large Canadian magazine and we commuted between Los Angeles and Toronto … including after we got married. I used to joke that I must have met the only Canuck who didn’t want to move to Southern California.

Family photo in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.There were a number of reasons Natalie wasn’t ready to leave her home country but when the time was right, she finally quit her job and moved across the continent. I quickly realized it was neither easy nor cheap to move from Canada to the U.S. legally. In the beginning stages, we met with an immigration lawyer who would have facilitated the process … for about $15,000 USD. We declined and to Natalie’s credit, she handled all of the tedious paperwork herself to get a Green Card and then to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Along the road to U.S. citizenship, we learned a lot. Since Natalie was already a Green Card holder, she had, essentially, already been vetted by the government and was approved to live in the United States. The process of going from a Green Card holder to a citizen is called Naturalization.

Once Natalie submitted her U.S. citizenship application online and paid the fees, Natalie says the entire process ran like an incredibly well-oiled machine. She submitted her application in mid-September. She had her biometrics appointment the first week of October and her interview and civics test the first week of December. The questions for the Naturalization test are online and Natalie studied these questions every day until she consistently scored 100% every time. We had fun running through the test questions together and I learned a lot, too. Here are the sample questions for the U.S. Naturalization test if you want to test your own knowledge of U.S. history and government. Applicants are only asked 10 of the questions and must answer at least six correctly to pass. TIP: When researching topics concerning immigration, citizenship and naturalization, be sure to use official government sources like websites with addresses that end in .gov to make sure that you are getting correct and up-to-date information.

Following her test and interview, Natalie’s oath ceremony was scheduled for March in Pasadena, which is a bit of a hike from where we live.

I definitely wanted to witness the ceremony and Natalie and I both wanted our kids (ages four and seven) to be there but I didn’t want to drag them out of bed super early for a long drive and then wait outside in the cold for an hour.

Natalie’s check-in time was 7:15am and the ceremony was scheduled for 9am. So I came up with the genius idea to stay at a hotel near the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. We originally wanted to stay at the beautiful and historic Langham Huntington in Pasadena but it was two miles away so it didn’t make sense.

I started searching nearby hotels and discovered Hotel Dena, which was the closest one to the Pasadena Convention Center and Civic Auditorium. In fact, they share the same parking lot and are literally right next to each other. Hotel Dena is part of the Marriott group and is a Tribute Portfolio Hotel. Here’s our hotel review.

There were 1,295 people sworn in during that morning ceremony (there was another oath ceremony in the afternoon). The woman seated next to Natalie said the line to get into the parking lot for the Convention Center was a mile long and took over 30 minutes so you’ll want to factor that in if you’re driving in for an oath ceremony.

Pasadena Convention Center.
Fortunately, because we’d stayed at Hotel Dena, Natalie just needed to walk a couple hundred yards from the hotel to the Convention Center at 7am. However, once she got out there, she said the line was the longest she’d ever seen. It wound all the way down the street, wrapped around the corner, down another street, up some stairs … she said it was LONG. And it was also chilly (46F). She stood in line for about 45 minutes before reaching security, which everyone has to go through, to enter the auditorium.

I had said to Natalie that perhaps it was better to show up late instead of standing in that long line but while it may have eliminated the wait time on the front end of the process, it would have added waiting time to the end, as the new citizens are released row by row from the auditorium to pick up their citizenship certificates. So if you show up at the end, you’ll have to wait until the very end to get yours and be among the last to leave.

I stayed back at the hotel with the kids so that they could eat breakfast and not get too antsy waiting in a long line. I was hoping that maybe Natalie could just check-in quickly and come back to the hotel but that’s not how it works. As part of the well-oiled machine, everyone is guided from one step to the next: First security, then someone checks all your paperwork and then you’re led into the auditorium where the ceremony will take place and are seated. In terms of paperwork, they ask a number of questions about your actions between the date of your interview and the naturalization date (Have you been married during that time frame? Divorced? Arrested? etc.) They also ask if you have traveled outside of the country during that time and if you have, you have to show proof of your travels. Since we spent Christmas in Toronto and then did a Caribbean cruise, Natalie had to show proof of where she had been. FYI: I spoke to one of the officers when I arrived with the kids at 8:45am because there was no one in line for check-in and asked, “If my wife was late, could she have checked in now?” The officer said, “She sure can.” So, she didn’t have to be there at 7:15am but that’s the check-in time everyone is provided with and who wants to take any chances with something as important as this?

Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, California.
Family and friends go through a different security entrance. When I arrived with the kids, there wasn’t a line but there was five minutes later when our friend Jessica arrived.

Pasadena Civic Auditorium
For the purposes of the oath ceremony, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium was designated a U.S. court. It is a beautiful building and we were told that it’s where America’s Got Talent auditions are held and sometimes American Idol. Family and friends are supposed to go upstairs and sit in the balcony but if they don’t fill the auditorium, they let some guests watch from the orchestra level, which is where the people taking the oath are seated. We were happy to be on the orchestra level in the very last row. My wife was up ahead in the middle.

Naturalization ceremony in Pasadena, California.
The whole ceremony lasted about 35 minutes and I wish I had recorded the presiding judge’s speech because it was amazing. The judge expressed his pleasure to be there, saying that it was a full-circle moment. His parents came to America from Cuba when he was four years old. He said that they hadn’t come to America to be materially rich but to be free. He said that when they were leaving, the Cuban government did an inventory of their modest house and everything they owned including clothes and kitchenware. The only thing they could bring on the Red Cross ship was the clothes on their back. His mother had to choose between a coat and a sweater because she was not allowed both. She chose the former. When they arrived, they were given $100 and a block of cheese.

He said he couldn’t remember ever being materially comfortable ever in his childhood but they never had any regrets or complained. His father worked multiple jobs including bagging groceries in a grocery store and his mother did administrative work. Despite all the challenges of his beginnings, he obviously worked incredibly hard to get to his position as a United States District Judge. I can’t begin to do justice to his emotional speech but he ended with: “Chase your dreams and be good citizens. Never forget, in America, all things are possible.” We all felt so lucky that he was the presiding judge – his speech was so moving, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Natalie said she wished she’d brought Kleenexes because she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

According to my photo timestamps, the ceremony started on time at 9:01am, the swearing in took place at 9:09am, and the ceremony ended around 9:37am. Family and friends are then asked to leave and the new U.S. citizens wait until it’s their turn to pick up their certificate. Natalie came out at 10:27am.

I exited the building with the kids and our friend Jessica who had joined us for the special day. Many people wait right outside the doors of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for people to walk out while others walk across the street to the shops and restaurants, which is what we did. There are a number of street vendors selling red, white and blue flowers, hats, flags and certificate holders for $15.

After a lot of hugs, tears and congratulations, we walked two blocks to City Hall to pass time (waiting for the Great Maple restaurant to open at 11am) and check out the beautiful building that they use in Parks and Rec and countless other TV shows and movies. In fact, they just happened to be filming Apple TV’s Shrinking, which I love. Also, the City of Pasadena has memorialized Jackie and Mack Robinson in two bronze monuments, situated directly across the street from City Hall in Pasadena (pictured above).

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12 Comments On "My Wife Just Became a U.S. Citizen - Here's What The Oath Ceremony Was Like in Pasadena, California"
  1. Christopher|

    Congratulations to Natalie on becoming a US citizen.

  2. Sandy Londos|

    Thank you, Johnny, for taking the time to write about the ceremony, including so much detail, and even mentioning the judge’s uplifting words. It means a lot to me as the child of a first generation American. Thank you, too, for including the questions. Perhaps because of my age (65+), I knew all the answers. But I’m shocked and saddened by how many people I know who can’t answer even the simplest of the questions. Even more disappointing is how many folks not only take our freedoms for granted but totally disregard upholding the Constitution and protecting the rights of others.
    Grateful for you and Natalie. The USA needs more citizens like you guys..

  3. Penny Keefer|

    Congratulations. Found this so interesting and very detailed. Will pass this info on to my neighbor from England who wants to do the same thing.
    Thank you for this and once again congratulations!

  4. Heidi Scribner|

    Made me cry.

  5. Phil|

    Congrats! I remember when my wife became a citizen. It was a great ceremony. I believe that immigrants are the life blood for the USA.

  6. Sid|

    Congratulations! Welcome to America.

  7. Scott|

    Congratulations Natalie! I’ve attended tow Oath Ceremonies and they both have been memorable events.

  8. Lea Ann King|

    Congratulation, Natalie. Thank you John for sharing the moving experience. I’m delighted to know there are thousands of people like Natalie who want to become American citizens and uphold our democracy which they have worked so hard to join.

  9. Mark V|

    Congratulations Natalie!! 3 of my grandparents were Naturalized Citizens. Two from England and one from Holland. It seems that people who choose to become a citizen, are just that much more patriotic.
    Very smart idea to stay close to the event.

  10. Rebecca|

    What a beautiful family you are!

    Congratulations, Natalie! Our country is lucky that your’re now officially one of its citizens.

    Thank you Johnny Jet, for sharing the day’s emotion.

  11. Ley|

    I fully agree with all the wonderful comments already posted. As the daughter of a naturalized citizen, my heart felt every word you wrote. Thank you very, very much for sharing what took place on a special day in the life of your family.

  12. Terry Mack|

    I want to add my appreciation and thanks as well to you, Johnny, for including all the lovely detail of Natalie’s citizenship journey, specifics of the current process and test, your family’s pride in her accomplishment and the words of the kind judge’s speech. With your description I felt like I was there. My father, grandmother and great grandmother were all German immigrants in the mid-20’s. I never tired of hearing the stories! So grateful that you are teaching your children the nature of our freedom and our responsibilities to its preservation.

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