Monday, January 2, 2017

Citizen Amanda

A new year, a new beginning, a New Thing; and it’s not even mine. It’s Amanda’s. Amanda is a brand new American citizen.

Amanda came to the United States from El Salvador six years ago as a 20-year-old au pair. In El Salvador, she’d been a nurse’s assistant, but when she decided to come to the United States, she took another year and a half to learn English in preparation. Now, after a couple of years at the Alaska Literacy Program – where she was one of my students – Amanda is enrolled at UAA to get credentialed.

It’s hard.

Her whole venture has been hard. In six years, Amanda has not been back home, has only seen her mother on Skype. Her second year was the hardest, when most of her au pair peer group returned home, and she was lonely. Amanda is outgoing, creative, fun to be around; but 20-somethings don’t readily forge friendships with people whose English is developing. Think about it: how many of our friendships are with people who want to improve their English? The people Amanda meets in ESL (English as a Second Language) programs often return home after a year or so.

But Amanda persisted.

I read recently that immigrants have a future orientation; they’re looking to make a brighter day. That future orientation often leads them to giving the economy a push. Something in Amanda wanted the future, and she kept at it, making it happen.

Fortunately, her au pair employer appreciated her so much that she hired Amanda after her service ended. Eventually, Amanda met Ryan and they married. In 2013, Amanda applied for residency and now, years later, she could become a citizen.
My mother used to work for the Family Court, and she said the happiest days of her week were Thursdays: Adoption Day. I bet the happiest days in the Federal Building are Naturalization Ceremony days. Families come as parents and grandparents, wives and husbands, become citizens. Friends and colleagues, teachers and neighbors are there, and everyone is dressed up for the occasion.
The room was full with about forty new citizens from all over. There was some music, some singing, and a heartfelt address by a now-successful immigrant. All the speakers and the judge acknowledged that these new citizens may have to face a lot of negative comments and insults in the America we now experience – a sad message to people who swear an Oath of Allegiance pledging to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the U.S.

Many of these new citizens have left war or famine, persecution or other tragedies behind. They have lived here for the required three to five years of residency, may have learned a new language or a new vocation. None of it is easy. The only easy road is the one I traveled simply by virtue of the accident of having been born here … because my grandparents fled persecution and faced that tough road themselves.

When I was 20, I was a happy-go-lucky college kid. When Amanda was 20, she was moving alone to a new country.

Citizen Amanda, I’m glad you’re here!


  1. It is important to welcome our new citizens. Thanks for your blog.

    My grandfather left Europe in 1907 at the age of 15. He traveled on his own via an underground route, hiding during the day and paying to be smuggled at night. He boarded a ship in Bremen as a steerage passenger. Each person in steerage was given a mess kit. During the first night someone stole his while he was sleeping, so he was not able to get food. He arrived at Ellis Island hungry and miserable. AN uncle was supposed to meet him but was not there. After waiting in a park for 2 days a man took him to his uncle. The uncle got him a job in a blacksmith shop. After one week he was paid, but his uncle told him he had not been paid the correct amount.

    Years later he tried to become a citizen. He needed to find out the date of arrival of his ship but was told told all the records from his ship had been destroyed in a fire at Ellis Island so his entry into the US could not be verified. He never became a citizen, and it bothered him greatly.

    This is why it is so important to me to welcome immigrants.


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