“Ich bin ein Berliner”: John F. Kenneddy said in a speech on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin.
“Ich bin ein Schweizer”: Rubén Abruña said on January 28, 2019, in Schwamendingen after obtaining his Swiss passport.
After being married for more than five years to Petra, a Swiss citizen, I was elegible to apply for Swiss citizenship. The entire process took over one year and 200 francs. After filling out the application, submitting a copy of the marriage certificate, getting recognized by Petra’s Swiss “hometown” (now also mine) of Schönenwerd in Canton Solothurn, and providing proof that we live together, I had to meet with the police for an interview.
A friend of mine from Puerto Rico who is also a Swiss citizen had warned me about the interview. He lives on the French part of the country and was asked, among other things, to name five Swiss mountains. He is an avid mountain hiker, and after about ten they had to stop him from naming more peaks, some of which the interviewer didn’t know.
I surely could answer that and more, I thought, but still, I was a bit nervous, especially since it would be in German. When the police called my house to set up the interview, I was not home and Petra answered the phone. He said she also needed to be present during the interview. There is an infamous story of a woman who was denied Swiss citizenship because she was not buying bread at the local bakery, but at the Migros supermarket. According to the authorities, it was a sign that she was not integrated. Petra asked the cop if he was going to ask that question. He then asked if we buy our bread in the local bakery. Petra said we buy it at Migros instead because the one at the bakery is not good. The policeman said: “Why buy it at the bakery if it’s not good?” Eventually, the woman, after public outcry, got her passport.
The interview took place at the police station in Seefeld on a sunny morning, a good omen here in Zürich where the sun is shy. We were welcomed by the cop and taken to an office where a man, presumably another cop or detective, was sitting in front of a computer, so focused on his task he barely acknowledged us. Our cop asked us to ignore him because he would not be involved in the process at all. Hmmm? That was not comforting. I wondered if his presence had something to do with my political protests of bygone days in Washington and New York. Probably not.
The policeman did a good job in putting me at ease, something I have rarely experienced. He had a soft but humorous demeanor. He asked me why I wanted to become a Swiss citizen, how the government is politically structured, and what type of cultural activities I enjoy.
Since I moved here from Miami, Florida, I have wanted to become a citizen to vote in the regular propositions that are decided at the community, city, cantonal, and federal levels. So far I have already voted twice, since I was granted citizenship months before I obtained my passport. The third vote will be next week, when I will have the opportunity to vote against the privatization of the water grid. I had rehearsed the political structure of the Swiss system so I handled that question well. My knowledge of German betrayed me on the third one. Petra helped me and I confidently answered that I am a regular visitor of the Art Museum. Except that, it was not the answer he was expecting. He wanted to know if I partake of popular cultural activities like Zürifest, Knabenschiessen, and Caliente, among others. At the end he accepted it, also with a smile.
He asked me about what I do professionally and I told him about “La Casa Ausente” and “Shit Happens.” I told him that during my second year living here, when becoming a citizen was not in the immediate horizon, I had made a film about a free public bathroom in Zürich. I had it ready on my iPhone to show it (with German subtitles from a previous presentation I had made). With the last line of the video I knew I had captured his heart and mind. You can watch the short video here.
After watching it, he was hooked and wanted to see more. I told him that I had shot a video about our garden titled The Undercover Gardener, with my camera-glasses, the same ones Petra used to record me getting the passport at the post office. After watching the gardening video, with a tongue in cheek tone, I recommended the glasses as an additional tool for the police to use. He smiled and, quickly but politely, rejected the idea because the police is not allowed to do secret recordings like that. It would get them in trouble, he said. Hmmm?
After the interview, my sweaty hands turned dry again, and I realized that I was not asked to name any mountains.
Enjoy the video of me getting the Swiss passport at the post office, shot by Petra wearing the camera-glasses.