“I hereby declare, on oath, that…” I stood with another 119 people, raised my hand and started to recite my Naturalization Oath of Allegiance. With my heart bursting out of my chest I thought, “Is this really happening?”.
One month ago, I became a Citizen of The United States. Nine years after I said goodbye — through tears — to my family, friends, and my life in my home country of Colombia.
Where did the time go? Not that long ago, I had started a new life out of just two suitcases. I remember the tiny studio where I lived as a newlywed in NYC, how hard it was to train my brain to understand foreign words (then mutter them with my accent that will never go away). I remember trying to make new friends — something that is still hard today. I managed to start and raise a family away from my family, culture and traditions. I try to pass some of it onto my kids while allowing space for new traditions, too.
Fast forward about 9+ years to being here and having the honor of YOU reading my words.
These past 10 years have been brutiful — as in, brutal and beautiful.
“Do You Really Want To Do This?”
“Do you really want to become a citizen with the current state of this country?” I got asked several times as I shared my journey studying for my civil test and interview on Instagram.
I’m not blind to our current situation. I’ve had to get used to texts from my son’s school about lockdown drills. Growing up in Bogotá, we used to have evacuation drills in case of an earthquake or fire. But here, my son is dropping down to the floor in case someone enters the school and…we all know what. They’re having yet another one tomorrow.
Anger, sadness and frustration are emotions I often feel when reading and listening to the news.
I’ve even felt guilty.
Last year I wrote, “I’m an immigrant. I’m Hispanic. I’m a mom and my heart is breaking. I’m lucky. I got here in an airplane to study with a visa, and it happened that I found love (another immigrant), and decided to stay. I wasn’t running away with my kids from an unsafe situation, going through unimaginable risk to give them something better…I’m not better than all the immigrants detained, I just happen to be a lucky Hispanic immigrant.”
These are things that break my heart as a mom and a Latina. I’ve met wonderful people who have left everything behind looking for a dream and a better future for their kids. Humans who work harder than most and even without documents, who pay their taxes.
I could have applied years ago, but never felt the urgency. That all changed in 2016. I wanted to vote. But somewhere in between losing a baby and having a scary pregnancy after, I couldn’t make it in time.
Sometime last year, I started feeling uneasy with the fact that my husband and kids were citizens and I was not.
My Citizenship Ceremony
Though I didn’t bring my kids to my ceremony, I still wanted to explain it — at least a little — to my 6-year-old.
I asked him, “Where was mommy born?”
“Colombia.” he said.
I replied, “Well, up until now, I only had a “permit” to be here. Today, I became a Citizen and that means that I can stay here forever with you, your brother and Daddy.”
I made this decision thinking of the safety, security and freedom I’d have to keep raising my family in a land where I wasn’t born.
A Nation Of Immigrants
Sometimes I don’t know where I belong. I’ve felt too Colombian to be here, and too American (Gringa, as my parents say) to be in Colombia. I often find myself in the messy middle.
The day of my Naturalization Ceremony, the County Clerk officiating (a grandson of Italian immigrants), said six words that caught my attention:
“We are a nation of immigrants.”
“Are we?” I thought as I looked around the room — people of all ethnicities, of all different skin colors, were all there.
I have neighbors from France two houses down the street. An American/Filipino family three houses down. American/Colombian across the street. One of my son’s best friends is the son of a wonderful Afro-Antiguan woman. My husband’s business partner is Colombian. I’ve worked with Italian, Turkish, Indian and Brazilian people. If I keep looking around, I know I’ll find more.
We are a nation of immigrants.
According to the USCIS, The Oath I swore has established American Citizenship for 220 years. Two-hundred and twenty years! That makes a lot of us immigrants. We are a freaking nation of immigrants!!
I belong here.
I’m An American Citizen
As someone who comes from a less-than-perfect country with bad things happening every day, I’ve learned to look for the good things. There’s so much good in this nation.
I may be a lucky immigrant that never intended to leave her country for more than a few years to study, but I’m here. Now married to an amazing immigrant who has served in the military for 18 years. We’re raising our two boys to take pride in being Colombian/American. God planted us here for a reason, and we will bear the most amazing fruit.
Want to know the first thing I did after getting my certificate? I registered to vote. Being an American Citizen is a privilege that comes with responsibilities.
Thank you to Shana for letting me share my voice here. She’s one of the most inclusive people I’ve ever met.
PS. As much as I loved the “we are a nation of immigrants” statement, this article called Why I’ve Stopped Saying ‘We are a nation of immigrants’ is very eye-opening. I highly recommend you read it.