Arevik, in Los Angeles, holds a Spanish-Armenian dictionary published by her father. (Photo courtesy of Arevik Sargsyan)

My name is Arevik Sargsyan. I’m originally from Armenia. I was born and raised in Yerevan, the capital city. Ever since I was five years old, whenever people asked me what do you want to become? I would say, “I want to be a diplomat.” That was my dream. My dad was a diplomat in Cuba for the former Soviet Union, and I admired his job. He was involved in politics and in the overall issues in Armenia—education, immigration, and whatever was happening in my country. I fell in love with his field of work, so I asked him, “Dad, what should I learn? What should I study to become someone like you?” He said, “Languages. You don’t need to go to university to learn international relations or foreign policy. Learn a couple of languages and you will be fine.” Now I speak five languages: my maternal language Armenian, Russian, Spanish, French, and English is my fifth language.

I met my husband in 2005 in Armenia. He has family members living in Armenia and he was visiting his motherland for the first time in his life, but he was raised in the United States, and he is a U.S. citizen. We got married in Armenia and then I moved to the United States. I was the one who needed to relocate because he’s a college counselor and that profession doesn’t exist in Armenia, so we moved to Los Angeles. I had a chance to apply for my citizenship in my third year, based on my marriage to a U.S. citizen. But I missed the opportunity, in part, because of the language barrier. I wasn’t comfortable with my English. Before meeting my husband, I would come to world conferences in New York City of people who speak Spanish. When you visit this country many times as a tourist or for a job visit, it’s very different from when you move to live here completely. The cultural shock is different, and it was very hard at the beginning.

Arevik with her husband in Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan.
(Photo courtesy of Arevik Sargsyan)

Nobody reminded me to apply for citizenship, and my green card was for 10 years, so I wasn’t in a rush. During election time, I would think about applying, but it was usually too late to register to vote so I never did. When I finally applied, I no longer felt secure just being a resident. Lawful permanent residents live in this country, they work, they pay taxes, but they don’t know what might happen next. You don’t know which ruling party is going to be in power. You don’t know what the immigration laws will be in the future, and some of your rights might be taken away from you as a resident. When you are a citizen, you are equal. I applied for my citizenship in 2019 because I felt that U.S. citizenship was the path to secure my life here in this country. I had been here 15 years and my English was perfect.

Amila Orucevic, the Immigration Coordinator of IRIS, the Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Service, helped me fill out my application. She is the most amazing immigration attorney ever. Amila is now my boss at IRIS. She’s the head of the immigration department. Before COVID, I volunteered at the citizenship clinics. Now I assist Amila with immigration cases, N-400s, employment authorization, green cards, and anything related to immigration.

I was nervous before my citizenship interview. People scare you. They say, “The immigration officers are rude. They’re strict. They might deny or not give you your citizenship for no reason.” So, when I went to the interview the immigration officer seemed distrustful at first. He asked, “What’s wrong with your application, why did you have an attorney prepare your application?” I told him, “She’s not representing me as an attorney, she’s representing me as a friend, and she just helped me fill out my application.” After that, he was extremely nice. He was a very friendly middle-aged man. He asked me the basic questions that they ask everyone. And then he accidentally began to read the same questions twice. And I stopped him and said, “You already asked me those questions.” He started to laugh and joke. He said, “Congratulations, you’re a U.S. citizen. You can go!” It was a good experience.

My oath ceremony, however, wasn’t a good experience. It was 3,000 people in one huge hall at the immigration building in Los Angeles. It took five hours to do the oath ceremony. We were in that huge room with so many people who were just sitting and waiting. I was exhausted, dehydrated, and angry too. I couldn’t wait to get out of that room! Afterward, I celebrated with my mom, with my husband, and my two kids. My husband was raised here, so for him it was, “whatever.” But my neighbors were very, very excited because they weren’t citizens yet. They asked me to put my right hand on their heads. In my culture if something good happens to you, you transfer your luck to another person that way. I don’t believe in that, but I went out and put my hand on everyone’s heads—good luck! Good luck! They have since become citizens too.

Arevik as a baby in Armenia with her mother and father.
(Photo courtesy of Arevik Sargsyan)

It’s very important to become a U.S. citizen. I came to the United States at age 23 as an adult immigrant, my language was different, my ethnicity was different. I was feeling only that I am Armenian, I didn’t feel that I was American too. When I became a US citizen, I had the feeling that now I belong here. I feel integrated into the society too. I have rights and I can make a difference here. I believe that this is a country of opportunity. One of my dreams came true when I came here: now I am an ambassador—for people.