photo by John Duhon
CAPTION: Senior Keren Cumpian raises her right hand and repeats her oath of citizenship to the United States of America, after a long process starting when she was just six years old.
The second my mom handed me the letter, I started crying. I remember feeling like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Along with the letter there was an invitation to attend a special citizenship ceremony at the U.S Citizenship Immigration Services building. In that moment, I realized that not having my citizenship was something that had been bothering me deep down. But on April 15, 2017, I got that letter that announced that my application was approved. I was going to be a Unites State citizen.
The ceremony was small, it took longer to check in than the actual ceremony itself. When I was checking in, they took the resident card and threw it in a box, along with other cards just like mine. I signed a certificate that proves that I am a citizen and then they gave me a small American flag. Before the ceremony started they had a volunteer sing the National Anthem and another say the Pledge of Allegiance. Then after that, the speaker started announcing all of the countries that were participating in the naturalization ceremony. As the speaker said the names, little by little people started rising when their country was mentioned. There were people from Canada, India, Rwanda, South Korea, Vietnam, Puerto Rico and Mexico. As people started getting up, I kept looking around trying to see who was from where, and I was amazed. We were all born in different countries and yet certain circumstances allowed all of the different cultures to be in one single room. After all of the people were up, we said an oath together making a promise to abide by the laws.
When I was six years old I moved to the U.S., because of the opportunities that are offered here and because my mom was tired of living alone, while my dad lived in the U.S and worked two jobs. My mom had been living alone for about five years, waiting for my dad to be able to move us with him. He had to live in the U.S for a certain amount of time to be able to apply for residency for us. Finally, when I was around six, the papers got processed and my family was able to gain our resident cards and be reunited once again.
I will forever remember moving to San Antonio because of all the confusion that surrounded me. As my dad drove towards our new house, we would pass hundreds of billboards and I couldn’t read any of them. To me, they were just letters – there were no words for me. Because of my lack of knowledge of the English language, I did not go to the elementary school in my neighborhood. Instead, I went to a bilingual school where I spent four years adjusting to a new country and learning a new language.
Being a resident came with certain restrictions. Growing up, I knew that I did not have the right to vote, and that my status was not guaranteed because certain actions might cause me to lose my residency card. Not only that, but as a senior, I realized that there were certain scholarships I was not able to apply for because my status did not fall under the requirements. Even then, every day, I felt lucky because of the many more opportunities that I was able to have.
This all changed late 2016, when my parents started talking about sending in a citizenship naturalization application. This means that I acquired my citizenship through my parents. The process was long, and to avoid any mistakes, my parents got legal help with the paperwork. We started the process around October, months passed and I forgot I even sent the papers to be processed. And then I got that letter, and the invitation.
Being able to be a part of the ceremony made me feel incredibly blessed and so incredibly lucky to have obtained new rights that I didn’t have before, and that my journey to citizenship is now complete.
photo by John Duhon