While we sit breathlessly through another political convention — though a slightly truncated one to show that during this particular hurricane, Republicans care — let's take a break to celebrate Alisa Dzananovic (pronounced jan-NA-no-vich), who passed her citizenship test last week. Dzananovic, a 26-year-old native of Bosnia who was named after the fictional Alice in Wonderland, went to Hartford's federal offices and nailed it a few days after her fiancé, Goran, and his father did the same.
"It was exciting, and it was nerve-racking," said Dzananovic. "Everybody says, 'You'll be fine,' and since we had the study guide, we knew what to expect, but then you start thinking about what you're doing and you wonder if you really will be fine."
The immigration office was full when she walked into the room that morning, but once her application was reviewed, she was asked seven questions, and she knew the answers to all of them. And then they asked her to write a sentence in English.
The sentence was, more or less, "I would like to become a U.S. citizen." And she very much wanted to. She's been in this country since 2000, graduated from Bulkeley High School and then St. Joseph College, and started work as the YWCA of the Hartford Region's marketing manager. Her family left war-torn Bosnia when she was 9. They moved to Germany, where she went to high school (and studied English), and then moved to the United States.
It was a long journey, and it all led to the test, which took less than an hour and just like that, Dzananovic became a hyphen, a Bosnian-American. When she finished the test, other would-be citizens with whom she'd waited reached for her and asked, in accented English, "Did you pass? Did you pass?" She nodded happily and called Goran to tell him. It's nice, they agreed, to have passed through so many countries and finally to have come home.
Her office mates at the YWCA were also waiting anxiously to hear. To show their support, some of them had been circulating the questions she was studying, just to see if they knew the answers. It's not hard to guess how many colors are in the flag (three), but try this one: "What is the Constitution?" (The supreme law of the land, though you couldn't necessarily tell that by our recent history.) Or this: "How many times can a senator be re-elected?" (Ask Strom Thurmond or Robert Byrd. There is no term limit for senators, or for representatives, either.) Or this: "Who is the commander in chief of the military?" ( Dick Cheney. Just kidding. That would be the president.)
The snarkiness is mine, and it's hard to resist, but then you talk to someone like Dzananovic, who is too smart to be cynical, and has all the love of her new country that often looks so manufactured in the political world.
"I will officially be a part of this country," Dzananovic said. "And I will be able to vote," something she's yearned to do since she arrived. "So many people in other countries are not able to vote, and so many others don't have a choice. I have had no choice thus far, and many Americans should ask themselves what they would do if they didn't have a choice."
She's been keeping up with the campaigns of Obama and McCain. For now, there's a welcome-to-America party to plan, but her vote will be a considered one. She has a stake in this race.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at