On becoming a U.S. citizen
This story was first published in The Randolph Herald, in the July 20, 2017, edition.
On Friday, June 23rd, 21 immigrants took the oath to citizenship to become American citizens. I was proud to be one of them.
The citizenship ceremony held at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington was lead by U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford with special guest Senator Patrick Leahy and his wife, Marcelle.
In this era of political divisiveness, the ceremony was a necessary reminder for all present about what we stand for: America is still a country that opens its arms to immigrants and values the cultural diversity they add to enrich the American fabric. Senator Leahy and Judge Crawford both felt a need to remind the crowd that religious tolerance is at the core of our values, referring to concerning trends of hateful rhetoric towards Muslims all over the country. The Chief of Police of Burlington, Brandon del Pozo, spoke about Burlington being a safe and welcoming city to everyone striving to better our society. They all spoke about their immigration past, their grandparents or parents having immigrated from far away places to pursue a better life for their children. With great reverence, sometimes tears in their eyes, they all welcomed the newly sworn-in citizens.
Proud and happy as can be, with District Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford who was presiding the ceremony.
Twelve years ago, I perpetuated a pattern women in my family have started 77 years ago: I became an immigrant. Both my grandmothers were born in a country that doesn’t exist anymore, in villages now in Ukraine and Romania, in a region called Bukovina that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1940, Romania established control over the region, and locals were forced to leave everything behind. My family left the land they had been farming for over 150 years, and relocated to Hungary, a country foreign to them; they became political refugees.
My paternal grandmother fled for the second time in her life, with her husband and soon-to-be-born son, during the Hungarian revolution of 1956, when civilians protested the Soviets. The protesters were quickly crushed by tanks and heavy artillery. Thousands were killed, and a quarter-million Hungarian became political refugees and were resettled all over the world. My grandparents were resettled in Belgium, a country that happily accepted migrants to work in the mining industry. Their son, my father, was born a few months after they arrived in Belgium.
In 1981, my father, then a young 20-something years old, went to visit family he had never met, in a country ruled by the Soviet Union with strict travel rules. He met my mom, and two weeks later, in order for my mom to escape Hungary, they got married, barely knowing each other. She moved the following month, also becoming an immigrant. With no higher education or family ties outside the Soviet Union, this was her only way out. She didn’t see her family left behind for years.
In contrast with my mother and grandmothers, and many people around the world, my immigration story is not one of hardship and difficult choices, of leaving family behind. I left a country that would have offered me similar opportunities in term of higher education, job prospects, a safe environment, and a bright future for my children. I traveled back home often, and my family could visit anytime they wanted. I came to study at a University and then made the choice to stay. The path to citizenship was straightforward, even though long and very expensive.
I recognize that my immigration story is written from a place of great privilege.
The financial impact was considerable: international students pay the full tuition price, no scholarships or student aids are available. The legal fees to pay for applying for the student visa, the green card, and then finally the citizenship slowed the process: all in all, I paid over $2,500 just to submit those forms. My country of origin played an important factor: my family and I could travel freely without applying for visas or being extensively interviewed prior to my immigration. I never faced racism and my religion has always been a private matter. I never feared for immigration officials to send me back after a random traffic stop, I never had anyone tell me to go back to my country because I don’t belong here.
All immigration stories are unique. The path to get here was for some hard, for some easier.
The three representatives of the three branches of government, Patrick Leahy, Judge Crawford, and Mr. del Pozo, reminded us that we are a nation of immigrants. That what makes America unique is our cultural diversity.
That no matter what our immigration background is, the willingness to choose the United States as our home, as a place to raise our children, is an active choice that leads to a better society. A few hours after the ceremony, Mr. del Pozo tweeted: “A room of new US citizens, here from around the world. The future of Vermont and the strength & promise of our nation. What makes us great.”
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