Bienvenido a los Estados Unidos: Part 2

The following is the conclusion of a series of articles by Juan Vasquez on his journey to citizenship.

It has taken me about 12 tries to get my opening thought right.

You see, my goal here is to share with you the experience I went through as I crossed the invisible yet oh so meaningful border separating green-card holder (A.K.A Resident or Resident Alien) and legit American citizen. The reason it’s been so difficult for this blog to flow is that the immigration process doesn’t flow in itself – it is filled with situations where one simply does know what to expect.

I’ll quickly sum up what the paragraph above means, but know that my first blog about the immigration/citizenship process is somewhere on Nick’s site. So, quickly… my family and I immigrated from Colombia over 12 years ago and we’ve been going through the convoluted process that allows a person new to this country to go from one immigration status to the next until he or she eventually earns the rights, protection, opportunities and responsibilities that all American citizens have. I’ve held student and tourist visas, and have been an illegal immigrant, a political refugee, a resident and finally a citizen.

You should know that the final step of the citizenship process is the naturalization ceremony. That’s really what it’s called.

At the ceremonies immigrants from all over the world come together to receive their naturalization certificates, which prove they are in fact legal citizens of the US. Typically families and friends are encouraged to come, some nice videos play and the importance of the moment is explained. My ceremony had cake. Thought it was a nice touch.

Now that you have some background info, let’s jump in. I’ll share some basic, literal details of the whole shebang and will try to put into digital words what crossing the naturalization border feels like.

So, the ceremony was held at an elementary school and I had to be there at 8:00 a.m. Surprisingly, I was on time. The principal of the school was greeting the soon-to-be citizens and their families at the entrance of the school, and there were USA flags all around. It set a nice, welcoming tone to a process that is usually very clinical and dry.

All of us soon-to-be’s were sent to one room – the room with the cake – and our friends and family were sent to the auditorium. I was fortunate enough to have some very supportive, very awesome people there with me.

About 13 fifth graders served as the ambassadors, or guides, through the ceremony. First guiding those in attendance to the rooms, showing the soon-to-be’s where to seat and then giving brief presentations on some of the countries represented in the room.

The principal of the school opened up the day’s festivities with a few thoughts, again taking away the typically clinical feel of anything immigration related. An immigration officer then explained why the naturalization certificates were so important. One by one, we soon-to-be’s where called up to receive the certificates – this part sent me back to my high school and college graduation. It shared the same literal and figurative importance.

With certificates in hand, we were asked to read the Oath of Allegiance and Pledge of Allegiance, the latter being the exact moment where I became a US citizen.

It’s funny. The whole process, all 12+ years of it, felt like I was going to the dentist. This ceremony, though, was welcoming and special – like a birthday. I won’t lie… I got the warm n’ fuzzies from the moment I walked in. I even teared up a bit while reading the Pledge of Allegiance.

That pretty much wrapped up the ceremony. After we were declared citizens those who chose to stay had a chance to eat the aforementioned cake. Overall the ceremony took a bit over two hours, 50 individuals became new citizens, an entire 5th grade class got a first-hand look at why immigration is not as simple as so many people think, and some cake was eaten.

Looking back now, I find it very interesting that the process in itself is so long, took me 12+ years. For some immigrants it’s less. Others live 99% of their lives here in the States and can die without ever becoming citizens. More importantly, they can die without ever becoming legal immigrants.

Let me repeat that. An individual can move to the States and never become a legal citizen. Not because they don’t want to or because they are lazy or because life got in the way. Instead, they can’t become legal immigrants because the current system is antiquated and ill-equipped to deal with the many truths about immigration. People from all over the world are here, most to stay and more will continue to come. Whether some folks out there want to accept it or not, this is a fact. We need to reshape out system to deal with today’s and tomorrow’s situations, not yesterday’s perceived issues.

I’m damn proud to be an American AND a Colombian. I proudly wear the immigrant label alongside my metaphorical American flag pin. After all, this nation was built by immigrants.

Now, I’m going to go drink some Colombian coffee and eat some pumpkin pie. Saludes y mucha suerte a todos.


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