Because my mother came to this country with her family when she was 17, the memories she has of her country are that of childhood games, school uniforms and her grandmother braiding her hair. She never went to school in the U.S., but all of her adult life has been lived here. Most of her family is here, and although she still loves her ajiaco and changua, traditional Colombian soups, she has embraced American culture.
My father, on the other hand, came as a young man of 23 looking for opportunity after he had to give up his new suit and the job that he was set to start at his brother-in-law’s company because his older brother, my uncle, had left the seminary and was left without a direction in life. Their mother, my formidable grandmother, had declared that this was how it was going to be.
My father came to the U.S. with a friend and […he clung to his national identity]
not a word of English. He jokes that the only thing he knew how to do was ask for his beloved Bacardi. Since my father didn’t have his family, he clung to his national identity. There was no email back then; letters took forever, arriving after weeks, sometimes months and my father hated to write. Instead, he preferred to call long distance, but only a couple of times a year because it was so expensive. Travel to Ecuador for a family of 4 was very expensive so we went every 4 years but when we did it was like the king himself had arrived. The arrivals section of the airport would fill with my father’s 7 siblings and my 35 cousins. I felt like a celebrity. Our vacations were always a beautiful, busy time filled with wonderful memories of family, incredible places and exciting music.
It was no surprise to me when my father used to say to anyone who asked him about the reason why he wasn’t a U.S. citizen was that he was born Ecuadorian, and he would die Ecuadorian. He was steadfast. Whenever we had to pass through customs at the airport, my mother, brother and I would all go to the line for American citizens and my father would defiantly march off to the longer line for non-citizens. He didn’t care.
What changed? Well, one year when I was in high school, we were coming back from a trip to Niagara Falls in Canada and the border official commented, as usual, that my father was the only one in the family who wasn’t a U.S. citizen. My father didn’t flinch, until the official told him that new green cards would be coming out soon and that my father would have to reapply. This definitely got his attention. He never had to renew it before and the idea of having to reapply for a new one every 10 years did not appeal to him. After more than 20 years in the U.S., maybe it was having a family of his own and becoming a part of this country or maybe it was convenience; he didn’t want to worry about renewing a green card every 10 years, but whatever it was, my father decided the time was right for him.
[Like all citizens, my father enjoys having a voice in
our government and is proud of his U.S. passport.]
My father became a U.S. Citizen shortly after that trip and he has never regretted it. It has not changed his identity. He knows where he came from but is proud of the country he has lived in for most of his life. Now, he can vote for whomever he wants for president and doesn’t have to try to convince my mother to vote for his favorite candidates-some of these fights were legendary in my family. Like all citizens, my father enjoys having a voice in our government and is proud of his U.S. passport.
[There is power in being a citizen.] In fact, there are many benefits to being a U.S.
citizen. Consider this: many local, state and federal jobs require citizenship for application. Citizenship may open up new job markets for you. Additionally, federal grants and scholarships are sometimes only available to U.S. citizens. Ultimately, if you don’t like the way things are in the government, as a citizen you can run for a federal office like U.S. Representative or Senator. There is power in being a citizen.
Like all things that are worthwhile and good for us, citizenship is neither quick nor easy. Even though people like my father may have many valid reasons for delaying the naturalization process, the benefits outweigh any inconvenience or temporary stress the process may cause. Well, what are the steps, and how do you begin? How can you try to go through naturalization with minimal stress and maximum support? These are all excellent questions that will be addressed… in my next blog.