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born ready

In certain situations, I get intense immigrant anxiety. For example, at national borders. I’ve been a U.S. citizen for three decades, but crossing the U.S. border is still a harrowing experience, and I can always hear choppers overhead and feel the heat of a spotlight on the back of my sweaty neck. It doesn’t matter that the border we’re talking about is the one that gets me into the U.S. from Canada, and that the only thing I’m likely to be smuggling into the country is a trunkload of Luon and maybe some cold ha gow.

Being at a border makes me remember how my family fought to get into this country. I’m scared that if I leave, they won’t let me back in.

Now I’m married to a white dude, and that helps. When they want my passport at the border, I have Tom sitting next to me, looking as Midwestern as it is possible to look without being a platter of fried walleye and squeaky cheese. Having a white person around makes me feel better at times like that. Also, when I’m camping. Also, when I’m at rodeos. Also, when I’m at a Cracker Barrel. I imagine that feeling of security, of belonging, is how Tom feels when he’s with me at a Panda Express.

For years I’ve felt immigrant anxiety that I’ve never been called up for jury duty. I have friends who have been called up five, six times. But never me. I laughed it off but secretly assumed that it had something to do with my immigrant status. So when I got called up a month ago, I had the opposite reaction of whatever you likely felt when you got your letter. I. Was. PSYCHED. Jury duty! YEe-HAW!!! I was bona fide.

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I’m a lawyer, but I’ve never been inside that jury box, and I want in. Yesterday, on my first day of service, I chose my outfit with care. A prim cardigan over my least wrinkly striped tank. After clawing my way through security, I pulled my hair off my face and chose a seat in the front row of the jury assembly room. I put down my bag and sat up straight. Show time.

I needn’t have bothered. It turns out jurors are picked for a panel at random by a computer. What a waste. And in any event, my cardigan was no match for the Courthouse Effect. I don’t care how normal you look or how nice your suit is. As soon as you get within 100 feet of a state courthouse, you will start to look crazy.

Now it’s my second day of waiting for my name to be called. They’ve already called five 30-name panels without saying my name, but I’m still hopeful that I’ll get my chance to serve. The irony is that I appear to be the only person in this entire room who is eager to be a juror. Everyone else looks like Sgt. Brody in Homeland—as if they expect to die here, laying against a wall, after long hours of torture. One guy, James H., was called for almost every panel. The last time he was called, the whole room laughed. But not James H. “It’s not funny!” he shouted, to no one in particular.

No shit it isn’t funny. Sitting in this room for two days, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to be part of a jury. And I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that I’ll be sent home without setting foot in a courtroom. Pick me! Pick me! I have so much to give! I want to sit in voir dire and have someone ask me, in a grave voice, if I have any strong opinions about pleated pants. I want to debate legal terms with laymen around a big table. I want to be jury foreman. I want to read aloud the jury verdict. I want to fulfill my civic duty.

I want to be American.

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47 Comments Post a comment
  1. I would love to do my duty on a jury, but it’s the loss of pay that freaks me out! In California I believe you get a $15/day stipend, which does not go far, especially if I’m there for a week or more. How does one keep up with rent, bills, etc. if they’re missing pay indefinitely?

    September 3, 2013
  2. gulgun #

    I died at Panda Express too! Nice one, Yoona.

    As always, I enjoy the comments too. Responding to those must be tricky – making people feel heard/appreciated without calling out the non sequitors.

    I bought everything you recommended in your lunch box essentials message and even forwarded it to a friend who is following suit. Thanks again for taking the time to send those recommendations!

    August 7, 2013
    • hey gulgun! responding is not that hard but it gets harder the further I am mentally from a post. i appreciate the effort people take in leaving a comment, and try to respond in kind.

      so glad I could help with the lunchbox thing!

      August 7, 2013
  3. I prefer Mock Trials… they pay much better… I can never figure out how you (as lawyers) don’t hate the opposing lawyer.

    August 5, 2013
    • well some are just plain unlikable. but for the most part, at least in portland, there’s a collegiality that gives the legal community an air of civility

      August 7, 2013
  4. What a fascinating perspective. (One that those of us born here wouldn’t consider but for your glimpse.) I have only served as a juror once, in my 20s, and it was a nightmare. I made it onto a civil case jury and I was that lone woman who thought the rest of the jury was crazy. (I disagreed with the verdict, which resulted in a substantial financial judgment against the defendant, to whom I felt compelled to apologize afterwards (in tears, no less). And you might have read on my blog about my own experience with litigation in recent years. Right now I’m pretty jaded. I’m glad there are people like you to remind me of the benefits of being American because my default reaction is “American justice? Ha!”

    August 3, 2013
    • I know you’ve been through a wringer in our legal system. It’s a pretty squirrelly maze. But compared to what passes for justice in some other countries, it ain’t bad

      August 7, 2013
  5. The last time I crossed an American border, I had my blue passport carrying American daughter (a 4 year old) as my shield. I do get the sweaty neck and feeling that they aren’t going to let you back in.

    August 2, 2013
  6. I feel about military bases the way you feel about borders. And I was born here. I’m pretty sure nobody IS American enough for the military.

    August 2, 2013
    • I agree with you… going onto Mil bases is always a bit freaky… even when my hubby is wearing that damed uniform

      August 5, 2013
      • I spent a few years in Tacoma when I was young and that army base always seemed so scary. Of course I grew up
        in the middle of nuclear war hysteria

        August 7, 2013
    • Oh military bases are SCARY

      August 7, 2013
  7. I, too, love having a honky spouse around for those times I’m in places where Asians are few and far between. Especially at Cracker Barrel which, by the way, has to be the most appropriately named restaurant ever.

    I’ve never had the border crossing angst, though. Maybe you should change your alias to something else besides “The Jackal”? 😉

    August 1, 2013
    • Two words: Jackson, Mississippi. I swear I was the only Asian I saw in two days, and I was at my sister-in-law’s med school graduation. Med school. That’s ground zero for Asians

      August 7, 2013
  8. If your name gets called and you want to be on the jury, be careful how you answer any questions from the attorneys. The last time I got put into the juror box to be questioned by the prosecution and the defense to see if they wanted me on the jury, I was working for a social service agency. It was a domestic violence case. The defense attorney asked the potential jurors if we knew what a certain term was. I was the only one to raise my hand because I knew what it was and I wanted to be honest about that. After the defense was finished asking the questions, then it was the prosecutor’s turn. He asked the panel if we knew what a different particular term meant. Again, I was the only one to raise my hand.

    Both attorney’s excused me from serving on the jury, at which point the judge (whom I happen to know) called both of them over to the bench and gave them what for dismissing me because I knew what both of the terms were. But I was excused from serving.

    August 1, 2013
  9. Love that you love this. Like most Americans, I’m psyched when I’m sent home. Thanks for the perspective. We are blessed to have a jury of our peers.

    July 31, 2013
  10. I actually HAD jury duty in King County, back in the early 90’s. I had a great time. But yea the whole sitting and waiting to be called was annoying. There were a lot of teachers on Spring Break in my group and they were also having a good time. I have been called twice in North Carolina, but they do it different here. You call in the day before and find out if you are needed, and they either tell you to to come in (well a computer does) or that you are dismissed.

    July 31, 2013
  11. The Hubs, after having been in the United States for well over a decade, became a citizen a year and half ago. I’ve never talked to him about feeling “American enough”, I guess I took it for granted that he’s been here so long, it was a non-issue. But I can clearly see it isn’t and now can’t wait to get home with him this evening to discuss it.

    PS – I also loved the Panda Express and Pleated Pants comments. And I was going to ask if they still wear wigs in Canada 🙂

    July 31, 2013
    • it may very well be a non-issue for him. i’m particularly paranoid

      July 31, 2013
      • We had a really wonderful conversation, not only about him, but about all of our friends that came here from other countries. I now see things differently and I think am more aware. Thanks so much for opening my eyes!

        August 1, 2013
  12. Andy M #

    That is such a (hilariously written — “Panda Express” I DIED) noble sentiment for wanting to perform public service, which doesn’t just make you American — it makes you a pretty good American.

    I am going to my first jury duty service on Monday, and I want to get selected soo badly. I imagine myself doing such a bomb-diggity job that I am asked to serve on every jury for the rest of my life. Also, in the event that I my trial ends up being some kind of Trayvon-OJ-Mary Kay Letourneau fiasco, I a definitely going cash in by writing a salacious insider account/expose and going on Nancy Grace — which I guess makes me very American.

    July 31, 2013
    • omg state v. letourneau would have been the BEST. wouldn’t it be awesome to be sketched as a juror by a courtroom artist/sketcher person? there are many parts to my juror fantasy

      July 31, 2013
      • Yes! THAT would be very cool!

        July 31, 2013
      • Andy M #

        Do you think God gets mad when you pray for an Anna Nicole Smith-esque suspicious death/decrepit billionaire situation to happen? ‘Cause I am definitely doing that right now.

        But yes, I would definitely get that sketch blown up and hang it PROMINENTLY (like on a billboard over the highway-prominent), and when asked about it, I would tell people how the artist captured the precise moment when I realized some incredibly important detail and asked THE clarifying question that CHANGED EVERYTHING. Shortly thereafter I was duly recognized as the greatest mind of my generation, and from then on, very put together people, like Martha Stewart, would comment not infrequently about how I was really something.

        August 1, 2013
      • of course god doesn’t get mad. he sent the trial, didn’t he? please update us if you get selected btw

        August 1, 2013
      • Andy M #

        GAH! It happened! I was selected! I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so scared! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bflYjF90t7c

        August 9, 2013
      • Omg this is so funny

        August 10, 2013
  13. I have served on three juries, once as an alternate. It about killed me, when having sat through all the testimony, I was sent home when they went to deliberate! It was hell on earth. Since you are an attorney, I bet you get bounced during selection, but you never know. Good Luck!

    July 31, 2013
  14. Mary Sue #

    I was on a jury two years ago and was also secretly excited. I loved being part of the process. It was fascinating as a layman to see justice at work. Unfortunately for you, I bet they never pick you after jury selection because you are a lawyer. Luckily, it is truly American to sit in the jury room complaining.

    July 31, 2013
    • people say that but there are so many lawyers, you can’t get rid of all of us, right? and also, i’m a minority, i have to think that would help in this situation

      July 31, 2013
  15. This is so good. I’ve never had jury duty either and hope if and when it comes I can muster a bit of your zeal despite my natural born citizen status.

    July 31, 2013
    • well i never got picked. and now i have to wait two years. i wonder if i will feel the same zeal if i go through it again without getting picked

      July 31, 2013
      • Dude, I feel kind of sad for you. I mean not sad like not getting picked to play kickball but still bummed.

        July 31, 2013
  16. So funny! I was called twice for jury duty (Canada) and both times I had to say no because I was travelling full time for work and would be away. Since I came home 12 yrs ago and settled down, I have yet to be called… I would love to do it too!

    July 31, 2013
    • oh i bet it would be fun to serve on a jury in canada. everything seems more fun in canada. it would be interesting to note differences in the experience between the two countries

      July 31, 2013
      • Ha! Everything only seems more fun in Canada because of the way Canada is portrayed in movies and TV. Our day to day lives are as boring as hell, like everyone else…

        The trials and legal system are quite different however. We are based on the British system. We have solicitors and barristers and the judges are addressed as M’Lord. Wigs aren’t worn anymore but it’s not much different…

        July 31, 2013
      • how did you know i was going to ask about the wigs

        July 31, 2013
  17. ael #

    I was still laughing about your pleated pants comments when BAM! Your “I want to be American” hit me like bricks and I got all choked up. Beautiful writing.

    July 31, 2013
  18. Very well written. One of my most poignant memories of ‘not being American enough” was in graduate school, a decade after I became a citizen when I was being asked repeatedly by financial aid to verify that I was legally present in the United States. It took me to an angry place at the time. There was always a part of me that felt that I would never be American enough for this country, no matter how long it’s been since I became a citizen. I’ve worked through most of that. Courthouses scared the crap out of me though so I never had your enthusiasm for jury duty lol. Great post once again!

    July 31, 2013
    • yeah i went through the same feelings of resentment (and fear) when i lost my passport a couple years ago. now i actually sit upright in bed sometimes panicking that i’ve lost my passport. i’ll go downstairs and pat it reassuringly, and then go back to bed

      July 31, 2013
  19. Well done. Super interesting point of view.

    July 31, 2013

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