A degree of separation is a measure of social distance between yourself and others. The more you want to stand out in a crowd, the higher the number of degrees you want to ‘separate’ (meaning to distinguish) yourself from others. In many ways, the process of obtaining citizenship in the United States is determined by degrees. If you can set yourself apart from the millions of others vying for the same opportunity, your chances of successfully navigating the process increases dramatically. One way to do this is by giving correct – but unexpected – answers to the questions posed by USCIS Officers.
Question 100: Name two national U.S. holidays. I’ll give you just two guesses which holidays most applicants give in response. That’s right…Thanksgiving and Christmas. While a perfectly valid answer, it is what USCIS Officers expect to hear. You will stand out from the rest if you answer with an unexpected response, so let’s look at a national holiday coming up on the calendar, which is Labor Day.
Labor Day is an annual celebration held on the first Monday of the month of September. In 2020, that date is September 7th. What does this mean to you? For starters, banks will be closed so you had better plan ahead if you need their services before Tuesday. For most people holding a job, Labor Day is a paid holiday (meaning you won’t have to go to work and you still get paid for the day as if you had worked). Can you count on this being true? Well, actually, no. Say whaaaaaat? The United States is unique in the world in having FEDERAL holidays, not NATIONAL holidays. The US Congress has Constitutional authority to create holidays for federal institutions only, not privately held companies. Government offices shall be closed; all federal employees are guaranteed a paid day off. Most federal holidays are observed by the fifty states, but you should understand that it is not a guaranteed day off! Many stores close for the day as do most offices. What if you want a Starbucks on Labor Day? Can you get a Chick-fil-A or happy meal? Of course! Logic tells us that somebody is working to pull that espresso shot and butter your biscuit, right? Those who work on Labor Day usually get paid at a higher rate for doing so, generally 1.5 times the normal rate of pay. Know that your employer absolutely can require you to work on this holiday with the exception of those who work for the government of the United States.
What does Labor Day celebrate? According to the US Department of Labor, the holiday “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American worker.” Promoted by the labor unions of the day, the US Congress passed legislation on June 28, 1894, which President Grover Cleveland signed into law establishing the first Monday of September each year a ‘national holiday.’ Street parades followed by festivals for the “recreation and amusement of the workers and their families” was the order of the day. One hundred twenty-six years later, few cities hold parades anymore. The long weekend (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) gives families an opportunity to do something a little more elaborate or travel a little further than they might otherwise. There aren’t as many people working in unionized shops as when the holiday was founded, but we still recognize the fact that without Americans working hard to realize a shared vision, life in the United States would not be what it is today. Together, we built this country upon the foundation of those who came before. When that USCIS Officer asks you to name a national holiday, enjoy a degree of separation and say, “Labor Day …celebrating the contributions of every American worker to this great country.” When YOU are sworn in as an American citizen, I will raise my glass to you, too, on the first Monday of every September.