I am originally from Santiago, Chile, and I have lived in the United States for almost 19 years. My mom had two siblings that were already living in the United States and they convinced my parents to move here. They thought there would be better opportunities for my sister and me. So after my grandparents passed away, we moved to the United States. I was ten when we arrived in 2001. A few months later, 9-11 happened. After that things got more difficult for immigrants. But we stayed because we had sold everything back in Chile, and we didn’t have anything there any more.
I had a green card and was eligible to become a citizen in 2016. But it wasn’t until 2018 that I decided to apply. I did a semester in Germany for my bachelor’s degree. I went to Germany initially to study translation and interpretation. But once I was over there and saw all the refugees from Syria, and heard about their struggles, and I spent time with a Syrian girl in my German class; it made me want to work on human rights. I’m also interested in social work for refugees. I wanted to do my master’s degree in Germany because they offer the program for free. And I thought with my green card I could be outside of the U.S. temporarily to study. But a master’s program takes two years and I learned that I might lose my green card if I stayed out of the country for that long. So, before I applied, I decided I had to return home and get my citizenship if I want to pursue my interests.
When I came back all the immigration issues were happening at the border, it was a really heavy time. I felt it was safer if I became a citizen. I still wanted to help immigrants, so I did some research online and looked up different organizations where I could volunteer. I came across the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and I was very interested in the work they do. I work during the week as a receptionist, but I started volunteering with MAOF during the weekend when they have events and trainings. At that time, I began doing my own citizenship papers. I had done my residency papers, so I knew how to navigate the USCIS website and find the forms I needed to fill out. But ultimately it’s very hard to complete them without any help.
I knew that the Immigration Program Supervisor at MAOF knew all about the application process because they are constantly helping people do their citizenship forms. So I reached out to her and I asked if she could look over my application to see if everything checked out. We met in person, and she took time to look at everything. She explained different things that I had filled out incorrectly, and other things that I needed to add. She basically set up everything for me to send in my application packet. After that, the process was quick. I had to memorize the 100 questions. It was a lot of information to take in, and I was really nervous about my interview. I took the civics test first. After I got that out of the way, it was more relaxing. The USCIS interviewer then asked me a lot of questions and he was very observant of everything in my application, but it wasn’t that bad.
I became a citizen last September. The oath ceremony was very emotional. The judge was an immigrant as well, from Argentina, and she told her story. “I’m here now,” she said. “And now that you are citizens you can do more things. You can be more a part of the country.” As she was telling her story, it was very similar to mine. She was getting emotional as she talked about her parents and how they came here for her and her sibling—which is what my parents did for my sister and me. Seeing how much she achieved, I also got emotional thinking about what my parents did moving to a different country for their kids. That’s really big!
Listening to the judge, I also thought about my future. For a long time, I thought that with my residency papers I would be fine and I never considered being a citizen. But now that I’m a citizen it opens so many doors. After going through the whole process, I now think a lot about other things that I can do. I have the right to vote. I can have a more involved voice and be part of this country. When my American passport came, I think that’s when I especially felt my life was different. I’m doing a lot of research for studying abroad again and there are scholarship opportunities for people from different parts of the world, and there are a lot open for students coming from the United States. So I was really excited because now I can take advantage of opportunities that weren’t available to me as a resident.
I still volunteer for the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation. I think it’s a really great thing that they’re doing to help people. Lawyers are really expensive and not everyone can afford them. They hold events where people are able to get help for free. We help fill out their citizenship applications and after there are lawyers to look them over. When we moved here I was able to learn English in school, and I would translate for my parents because they didn’t speak the language. Now I translate during the workshops. I have such a good experience when I volunteer, my mom wanted to come too. Last time, I helped people fill out their forms, and my mom helped with photocopies and getting the envelopes ready so they can send their packets. We both really enjoyed it.
Note to our readers: During the COVID-19 epidemic, the NAC is offering remote legal services instead of workshops. Please read more about the NAC’s remote naturalization assistance options here. You can also contact an organization near you for information about how to access their services during this period.