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Proud To Be An American


I cried through most of Billy’s naturalization ceremony.

I had no idea I’d be so emotional. But there I was, in an office building in Northeast Atlanta, seated among 120-something immigrants from over 50 countries with juicy tears rolling down my cheeks.

For nearly six years, we’ve been receiving letters from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Each one was highly anticipated and had us running out to the mailbox seconds after delivery each day.

Every step was communicated via letter. “We received your application. You’ll hear from us soon.” “Appear at this time and place to be fingerprinted.” “Your interview has been scheduled.” “Please keep this letter for your records.” “Appear at this time and place to be fingerprinted… again.”

And the wildly good news in the same manner. “Congratulations. You are authorized to work legally in the United States.” “Congratulations. Here is your “green card.” You can now live here legally.”

Letters and cards. Worth more to us than gold. Could have gotten lost in the mail.

When Billy received this date for his citizenship interview, it was twelve days after Isaac’s due date. Ella had been ten days late and we stayed another five in the hospital.

But the letters assigned dates, they didn’t ask for preferences. So we marked the calendar, and I remained nervous that I’d be eating lemon sorbet in the hospital when Billy left me to take his very important test.

Thankfully, I was at Isaac’s two week pediatrician appointment when Billy called to tell me he’d passed the test. “Yay!” I celebrated. “When is the ceremony and can I come?”

“Actually, it’s at 2:30, if you think you can make it.”

What on earth?! But of course I wasn’t going to miss this, so my awesome mom chauffeured me from the pediatrician’s office on one side of Atlanta to the complete opposite corner. (Oh yeah, I still wasn’t cleared to drive myself.)

I don’t remember when the tears began exactly. But when the woman who led our ceremony looked across the room of all these people from so many different places and simply acknowledged our journey, I felt seen.

“I know you’ve worked really hard to get to this place,” she said. “This is a really big accomplishment, and we are here to celebrate.”

I had never thought of becoming a citizen as an accomplishment. So much of our experience with the immigration system felt like necessity, an arduous process to simply live with peace in our hearts.

But when she said it, I thought, “This is a big deal.” Cue tears.

And then I looked around me. We were surrounded by people who had been through a similar journey as we had.

(In fact, I actually was seated among the honorees rather than in the family section. Whoops! It turns out when you’re carrying a 13-day old baby, everyone is distracted by his rock star hair and let’s you do whatever you want.)

I wanted to know their stories. The couple from Indonesia sitting in front of us with their two children. The Indian woman next to me. The Colombians behind us that cheered the loudest when we went through every country represented.

I knew some had a relatively simple experience while others most likely had challenges unimaginable to us as they walked towards this day. Tears continued to flow.

There was this sense of closure that I didn’t foresee when I heard the woman congratulate us on coming to the end of such of a long road. And I felt such deep relief.

It’s over. Completely over. Billy is a United States citizen and as far as I know, they can’t ever take it back. The only thing he can’t do is become President, so I guess we’ll have to mark that off the bucket list.

It’s a journey I never expected to take. And some days it felt like it would never end. It’s hard to believe that nearly six years, three addresses, two states and two kids later, we’re closing this chapter of our lives.

When we started dating, I didn’t even understand what it meant to be undocumented. We held this significant secret in our hearts. We had a community that understood, that supported us, but it was still our secret to hold.

Since then, we’ve moved steadily through the process and we’ve shared our experience on this blog and speaking to groups. It’s been amazing to hear others’ stories and to continue to learn how the immigration system affects individuals and families.

Billy’s main reason for becoming a citizen was his desire to vote. We’ve just met too many people and heard too many stories from people that cannot speak up without great risk that we feel compelled to take every opportunity available to us to continue to seek change.

Thanks so much to those of you who've read our story, shared it and encouraged us in the telling of it. I am a big believer in the power of personal experience to make a difference in how someone thinks about an issue as complicated and sensitive as this one.

It certainly did for me. I just met a boy at church who laughed at all my jokes. The rest just came from loving him.  

4 comments

  1. Congratulations! What a happy day!

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    1. Thanks, Fiona ~ We definitely enjoyed it! :)

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  2. Yay, felicidades! I can imagine the joy of being done with the paperwork! :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Carrie. Yes. It is a joy for sure!

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