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Edith Mkhitarians: “You cannot imagine the feeling when you become a citizen of a free country.”

January 7, 2022

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Edith as a child in Tehran, Iran.
(Photo courtesy of Edith Mkhitarians)

My name is Edith Mkhitarians, I was born in Tehran, Iran. Even though my birth certificate is from Iran and my nationality is Iranian, because I’m Christian and my ancestors came from Armenia many years ago, we are a minority. Everything changed in my home country back in the 1970s after the Iranian revolution. It was really hard for the Armenians and for the Christians to live in that country.

Where I lived, there were no Armenian schools and I had to go to a Muslim school. In school, minorities are treated differently. Christian children like me were insulted and discriminated against. It was very hard.

Women in Iran, unfortunately, don’t have equal rights with the men, and Christian women had the least rights of all. I am divorced. I have a son, and I was fighting for custody. Even though I had a good position with a European company, and a very good salary, because of all of Iran’s rules and regulations, children always belong to the father and the father’s family—even if the father is not present. The mother is always in the background somewhere. I had a big legal fight, and it took a really long time to gain custody.

Edith celebrating her birthday at work in Iran. 
(Photo courtesy of Edith Mkhitarians)

I thought that it would be much better to move to a free country. I wanted to have a better future for my son, and to have him learn that all men and women are equal, no matter their race or religion, we all are human. I applied for refugee status in early 2012 with my son and my mother. Most of my family had moved to the United States before. We were the only ones still in Iran. After many background checks, in 2015 our case was approved. I moved to Austria as a third country and stayed there less than three months. I was interviewed at the American consulate where they issued our visas.

We moved to the United States on August 11th, 2015. I was extremely happy, but at the same time, I was afraid. I didn’t know how I would manage my life. How would I support my family? It’s a very confusing feeling.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy without a job, without any background in the United States.  But I knew I had to do it and that I could do it. I’m a warrior. I never stop fighting for my family. All my life, I fought for my rights. Coming to the United States was the best decision I ever made.

Edith with her son Dino, in Iran. (Photo courtesy of Edith Mkhitarians)

My son was 11 years old. The first thing I did was register him in school. He didn’t have a hard time at the school. My son can speak and write English because I sent him to English classes. He speaks Armenian and Farsi. He helped the teachers translate for the other foreign students, and I remember his first award certificate was for translating for the teacher. The program manager at Catholic Charities knew my background and asked me if I’d like to volunteer for them. I didn’t have a job, so I said yes, of course. I did the volunteering for a few months, then I was hired for 6 months through a special program. They liked my work and hired me as an administrative assistant. I found out that I liked the legal part of the job, helping people reunite with their families here. I moved to the legal department as a legal assistant. After lots of training I became a Department of Justice accredited counselor. I feel so good helping people come to the United States, and I encourage my clients to apply for their citizenship.

Edith celebrates her son’s academic excellence award. 
(Photo courtesy of Edith Mkhitarians)

A year and one day after your exact date of arrival as a refugee, you can apply for a green card. So I applied for my green card on August 12, 2016. I applied for citizenship four years and nine months afterward. My son helped me study for the civics test. He asked all the questions every day and I answered. I was very well prepared. Proudly, I’m now an American! My interview was on February 22, 2021 and my oath ceremony was two days later. There were just 20 people in the back of the USCIS offices. You cannot imagine the feeling when you become a citizen of a free country. Tears came to my eyes. I cannot explain the powerful emotion, “I did it!” I was so happy.

My son is automatically a citizen through me. But he told me he wanted to pass the test, because he knows all the questions and answers. I applied for his certificate which he received in August this year.  My son doesn’t like to talk about the past. He says, “whatever happened, happened. Talk about now and the future.” He’s very optimistic and he loves it here. Even before we became citizens, he would say, “Why are you worried? We are here now, right?” But the journey we took always comes to my mind. I try to forget the past because I’m sure that we will have a very bright future here. But your past is always with you.

Edith and her son, Dino, with their citizenship certificates.
(Photo courtesy of Edith Mkhitarians)

I feel responsible to be a very good citizen. I want Americans and America to be proud of me. I want to vote. I want to do my part to choose the best mayor, or president. This is very important. And I am trying to help people, and to make the world a better place for all of us. We all have the right to live a peaceful life. I had lots of dreams when I was a child. I wanted to be a pilot. I couldn’t achieve my dreams because it wasn’t possible in my country. But now I’m going to work hard to help my son to achieve his dreams. I’m very strong, when I put something in my mind, I will do it. One day I have to learn to fly. I just heard there’s an American saying, “the sky’s the limit.” It’s a very nice thing. I love it!