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Reciting the Oath of Allegiance, I felt tears well up in my eyes. I was glad I picked the chair in the corner where my face was out of sight.

“That’s it,” the staff at the front told us as she handed out our Certificates of Naturalization. “You’re U.S. citizens.” 

The words didn’t feel real to me. It was seven years all rolled up into one moment. It was like baking a cake for hours only to watch your friends and family finish it in two minutes. Sometimes, if it’s a really good one, it’s gone in seconds. 

This felt like seconds. 

I came to the U.S. when I was 13, my mom on a work visa. We didn’t have any family here, but we did have one friend, who let me, my sister and my mom stay in her spare bedroom for a few months while we got settled. 

At 13, immigration was scary. Moving from Canada had been a bigger change than I had ever expected, especially when the only thing I was thinking about was replacing snow with palm trees. I soon discovered that nearly everyone here was American, whereas in Toronto, I was always surrounded by immigrants who knew exactly what it felt like to be foreign in a foreign place. In America, it felt as if my sister and I were the only strangers. 

I missed the first day of school by a few weeks. We didn’t know that Americans started school in August. Everything was different. The people were different. Middle school felt strangely unfamiliar. I was forced to wear a polo during school hours and buy hideous $10 gym shorts. 

My mom hated Publix. We moved apartments. We moved apartments again. We slept on air mattresses. 

At 14, my sister and I were filling out paperwork for our green cards. It was terribly confusing, worse than the negative numbers we were multiplying in math class. We couldn’t afford a lawyer, so it was up to us and our Googling skills to navigate the sea of immigration documents.

A year later, our green cards came in the mail. We couldn’t believe it. Our little boat had made it to shore (the shore being the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office), and we were safely back on land. We felt immense relief.

After some time, we lived in a house with a two-car garage, proper bedsprings and a coffee machine. My sister and I blended in well because we didn’t have accents. It was getting easier to pretend that we were American.

Life went smoother as we navigated high school and college. However, I was occasionally reminded that my stakes were higher than others. I couldn’t leave the country for more than six months. Some jobs and scholarships required U.S. citizenship. My chances of getting in trouble were greater if my friends jumped off a cliff, so I never followed. At my U.S. citizenship interview, an immigration officer asked if I had ever been arrested. I confidently said, “No.”

At 20 years old, my sister and I drove home with our new U.S. citizenships. My mom, sister and I now know that the House of Representatives has exactly 435 voting members.

It wasn’t the waiting that was the hard part. The hard part was the uncertainty and vulnerability of setting down roots in a country that might not want you. Despite the brochures, America doesn’t like foreigners. It doesn’t like when people drink its coffee in a different way or when people have their lawns an inch too high. America doesn’t want to learn a new language or speak in a way that’s easier to understand. America likes Americans. 

The truth is, it probably doesn’t think about immigrants, unless it hates them for the frequented claim of stealing jobs. But if it knew the kind of courage, patience and perseverance it took, I think the word “immigrant” would hold a lot more respect. 

My immigration journey was kept in secret. Even as a young, middle school child, I couldn’t admit to my friends that I was scared we wouldn’t be approved for green cards. I remember feeling dead-tired in my classes because the stress of it kept me up at night. Worst of all, I was embarrassed of my family when we didn’t have our own house to host sleepovers or a mailbox my friends could send mail to. 

At 14, I was sitting in an American high school, envious of every single other person there who was worried about grades and relationships. They didn’t have to worry about their legal status to live in the country that they wanted to build a life in. 

Finally, finally, finally, as an official U.S. citizen, I now have the same worries as them. Whenever my sister and I stress about something nowadays, we say, “These are the kind of problems we want to have, remember?” 

My mom sacrificed everything she knew to give her children a better future. I’m so grateful for her bravery, which brought us to the happiest life we’ve ever had. Because of it, I’m American now. I say “like” a million times when I speak. I spend a fortune at Starbucks. I take a two-hour flight to spend the weekend with my friends in a different state. I go skiing with my boyfriend. And, my mom finally likes Publix. 

Public Relations Gator trying to make orange and blue look good. Fan of mom jeans, feminists, and the oxford comma.
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