I haven’t been able to write since Valentine´s Day, between the amount of work I had and my personal life, it was a bit difficult to do so. However, I do feel in the need to write today. Sometimes unexpected things happen in your life, the way you visualize it turns out to be totally different. I still remember when I was a kid and used to hate when my mom took me to English classes. I would always tell her “why do I need to speak English for? I’m always going to stay in Peru, there’s no need for me to speak English”. She always answered back saying “One day you will thank me”. Today it’s one of the days I can’t thank her enough for forcing me to go to the English Academy. The reason why it’s because two weeks ago I officially became an American citizen!
When I moved from Peru I never thought this day was ever going to come around. I mean I came to NYC in a F1 visa status and the idea of permanently staying to live in this country was never set in stone. But sometimes the unplanned happens and you have to make decisions according to what your heart desires. After approximately 10 months of applying for the residency in New York, I became a temporary resident. A year later I applied for my permanent residency, which I was granted a year after. Yes, these process take time and you have to be very patient, for that same reason I didn’t think I was going to become a citizen anytime soon.
As any immigration procedure, it was completely tedious. I had to compile so many documents, submit information, fill out forms and applications, and of course, pay for each of them, go to screenings, interviews, etc. But at the end, it definitely pays off. Knowing that there are so many people, who had the courage to leave their homeland to start a new life abroad, it’s something that gives you a different perspective about becoming a documented immigrant in this country. It saddens me that some people are not able to get a good job, to feel free to go back home whenever they desire, to provide their families with a better future, or that have to live in fear of been deported. Whether is because of the high costs of the paperwork, applications or lawyer fees, or because the lack of information about this matter: indeed this is a country full of opportunities but you have to be aware that the opportunities are broader and better for those who have the right documentation. All this makes you realize that having a green card, a social security and be able to be a documented immigrant becomes a privilege that unfortunate not so many people are able to have.
Last year I was able to apply for my citizenship, I heard the procedure was long, especially in New York and that I had to be very patient. I applied in January and by February I was assigned for a fingerprints appointment date for a month later. That day of March I went to the Immigration Offices and did the required screening, I also received the booklet with 100 questions to be studied for the test. I studied the test for months, but with no luck of a test date yet. When October came I reached out to the hotline of the Immigration Services and they mentioned that for some reason the process was moving slowly but I was going to get a notification soon. November passed and December passed, and I decided to call again. After 9 months of not hearing from them, on December 31st I received my test date.
The test date determines if you will become a citizen or not, if you pass you are schedule for an oath, if you don’t you can re-apply and start the procedure all over again. I started studying harder than ever, good thing that I took American history while in college because I had some notion of what I was studying. I compiled all the requested documentation and got ready for the exam. I was nervous, but not as nervous as when I took my driving test (yes, I was horribly nervous for that one). I learned the book back and forth and was ready for the test.
On February 11th at 7 am on a snowy day in New York City, I was in front of the USCIS offices in Long Island City. There were a lot of people that day. I was called to check my finger prints and then taken to the test area. We took an elevator and when we got there, I saw there were probably 50 more people waiting for their names to be called. I scanned the booklet again just to make sure I didn’t forget any of the answers. I could tell that some people were very nervous, others were trying to keep their cool. After 20 minutes later my name was called and I was greeted by an immigration officer. I had to swear that everything I was about to say was true. Right after I was asked for my information, name, date of birth, etc. I didn’t want to ask any questions because the guy seemed very serious. He made me read a question in English and write a sentence in Spanish. Right after, with no further notice, he started asking the booklet’s questions. “Mention one branch of the government? If the president or vice president are not able to be in charge, who is the next person to be in charge? How many justices there are in the Supreme Justice?”. I was asked a total of six questions. I thought it was over but it just got started. He then proceeded to ask me in what terms I was applying, and tried to get more personal information about me. I kept answering the best I could, being honest because I’m pretty sure if I gave them an inaccurate answer they would know right away. He made me sign and write my name more than three times. I had to sign on the right side of my passport pictures as well. He kept quiet, serious and I wanted to sigh so bad but just kept it to myself, yes, I was nervous.
Few minutes later, he looked at me and told me, congratulations, wait outside for your oath ceremony date. He then handed me a paper that said “Congratulations, you passed your test”. There were other alternatives that the official could have marked on that paper, but to my luck, he marked the satisfactory one. I thanked him and walked outside, trying to hide my excitement and stay calm. Everyone looked at me, probably they could read it in my face and I wanted to cry. It might sound cheesy but only a person that goes through this kind of procedure truly knows what it feels to achieve this. For many it takes a lot of sacrifice, not only that, at all times you must stay positive and calm. But once you get that letter that states your oath date you know you did it. Many people that were in the waiting room congratulated me, while I walked away with a smile in my face, I wished them all tons of luck. As soon as I was out of the building I called my mom and she rejoiced with me, she knew it was a new beginning, a new chapter in my life that was about to start..
A week after, I was in the court in Brooklyn ready to take the oath. I was part of a group of 200 people from all over the world, who decided to make this country, their homeland. We had to go through a paper work procedure. Hand in our green cards, check our names that were going to be written in the naturalization certificates, register to vote if we wanted, check the papers they gave us, practice the oath, etc. The immigration officers were really nice, they were even cheering us and encouraging us to be happy for such a meaningful event in our lives. They were giving us advice on the next things we had to do once we receive our naturalization certificates. I was surprised by their courtesy and assistance of each of them. We were there for approximately three hours until we had to do the oath in front of the judge. The judge gave such a touching speech that I’m sure all of us in the room had teary eyes, especially when he said “Today you all are starting a new beginning in this country, you will be able to offer new opportunities to your future generations. Now you can enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other American, at the same time be able to be involved in responsibilities and duties as a citizen. And remember, this country’s foundation was based in immigrants, just like you, who came to this country chasing the American dream”
Right after his speech, he congratulated us and we all clapped in happiness. The immigration officers called our names one by one to receive our naturalization certificates. This day, 200 immigrants from different countries and with different backgrounds, became American citizens. I was one of them 🙂