Readers recall the often long and harrowing process of becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States. If you’d like to share your own story, please send us a note (and a relevant photo, if available): firstname.lastname@example.org.
This next reader, Shelly, immigrated to the U.S. from Israel in the late ‘50s:
I came to this country with my family when I was five years old. We actually landed on my 5th birthday off a big ocean liner which sailed from the U.K., where we’d visited relatives and toured London. We came from Israel—a country only a decade old at the time—to help with some of my health issues and so that my father could find better business opportunities. My grandmother, aunt, uncle and their families were already in the U.S. I remember that day as my grandmother met us and brought me my first really beautiful doll.
My parents had been refugees from Nazi Europe in 1938. They met in pre-Israel Palestine and were filled with hope when they came to America.
At age 11, I was naturalized, along with my parents. I don’t remember much about the ceremony, but over the years, being a “hyphenated” American has kept me thinking about the responsibility of being a good citizen. It has made me sensitive to the fact that so many countries do not promise the rights our country does, that many people died to obtain and retain these rights, and that we have a role to play in preserving them.
My parents were able to build a good middle-class lifestyle for us in America. I attended public schools, earned a scholarship to an Ivy League university, and had a very successful business career.
More recently, I was inspired by Hillary Clinton to become active politically. I worked on both her campaigns, and I was a leader in this last campaign in mobilizing thousands of people and raising lots of money to support her—the most qualified presidential candidate of our generation. It is no surprise that she won three million more votes than her opponent but shocking to think that she lost the election due to just 80 thousand votes in swing states.
It won’t surprise you to hear that while I will always stay optimistic about America, I am hugely disappointed in the voters who chose such an unqualified candidate to “shake things up” and brought about this outcome, which will have repercussions for generations to come, including many negative ones for his own voters. I thought Americans were smarter than that.
A reader sketches out the basics of his immigration story:
My family and I came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico City when I was three years old. My parents divorced a few years later and my father later married a U.S. citizen. My father, my two siblings, and I became legal residents when I was 12 years old. I grew up in Chicago. I became a naturalized citizen at the age of 21 during my last year of college.
I am now 25 years old and living in Los Angeles. My mother is still undocumented with no path to citizenship. I’m visiting Mexico again in two weeks and it’ll be my first time back in the country since I was 12 years old.
When I asked him what it was like to spend a large part of his childhood in the U.S. illegally, he replied at length:
It was terrifying. The fear of anyone finding out I was undocumented loomed over my entire childhood. It still does, to some extent.
I grew up afraid and guilty over my immigration status. It was a permanent topic of conversation in my home, and it was made very clear to me as a child that I had to keep our family’s secret. My parents couldn’t take the chance that my younger brother or I might accidentally reveal the truth. So, I started lying to try to protect my family.
I lied about where I was born. I never spoke Spanish. I created a whole alternate timeline for my family in an attempt to cover up any trace of where I was from. I would even lie about what neighborhood I lived in. To live in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood was too risky, in my book.
To this day, none of my friends know I was undocumented. Only a handful know I was even born in Mexico. The fear and guilt I grew up with runs deep. It’s a hard childhood to explain mostly because all my rationale came from a place of overwhelming fear. I grew up knowing I was as a second-class citizen, and trauma like that doesn't just go away.
When I finally became a citizen, it felt like a cruel joke. It’s a strange process to become an official, verifiable American. After years of lawyers, interviews, appointments, and quite a bit of money, I finally made it to my naturalization ceremony, where I pledged allegiance to the U.S. flag—the same flag I had pledged my allegiance to since I was five years old, and the flag of a nation whose language, history and customs I knew better than the country I was born in.
I left the ceremony without much sense of accomplishment. I did not feel the same joyfulness and celebration as the crowd around me. I told no one outside my family about the ceremony and I tucked away my naturalization certificate. I was still trapped underneath the guilt and shame of having been undocumented. My citizenship could not erase my past. The lies I had told. All the years of anguish I suffered in silence.
Anyone looking at me wouldn’t question my legal status in this country. At the very least, people would guess I was a first generation Mexican-American. This is all to say that I don’t look like the stereotypical, undocumented immigrant.
So I felt very much like a paradox growing up. I had always felt like an American, but I also knew my history. It was difficult to try to reconcile my identity and my citizenship, but I’ve slowly started to mend the two. A legal status helps solidify my sense of identity, but I was never really looking for approval—just to relinquish some of the fear.
Just this year, I’ve slowly started to disclose to new people that I am a Mexican immigrant, despite my old paranoia that they’d immediately begin to question my legal status. I’m beginning to heal old wounds and develop a small appreciation for my journey.
But I still haven’t been able to disclose my previous undocumented status to my closest friends. Believe it or not, it is hard to convey the overwhelming fear, guilt, and shame of being undocumented to the average American. How can they understand the struggle I’ve endured while attempting to achieve a status they were born with? Especially when they don’t even realize the enormous gift bestowed upon them. A birthright people have fought and died for. Something millions of people struggle for in the U.S. today. How can I begin to express my pain, let alone theirs?
For a recent Atlantic photo essay of naturalization ceremonies, “Choosing to Become an American,” we attached a callout for reader stories. The first one comes from Mayda, who was part of the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere:
I was born in La Habana, Cuba, and came to the United States in 1961 under the Peter Pan Program, which allowed Cuban children to leave the island without their parents or any other adult.
Being a very young girl at the time, I had no idea why or for how long I was leaving Cuba. As anyone can imagine, it was a very traumatic time in my life. For any child to find themselves without their parents arriving at an unknown place, not knowing anyone, not speaking the language—it’s unreal. I passed many nights remembering my family, remembering Cuba, my friends, my school … being very sad and wanting to go back.
But time has a way of healing, even when we don’t want to heal. I finished my high school while living in a camp for unaccompanied Cuban refugee children on Homestead Air Force Base in Florida City. I went on to study at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
In 1973, I decided it was time to become an American citizen and to honor this country which had given me a home. I consider myself very lucky I was born on a beautiful island to a loving family, and I came to live in and love another wonderful country. I’m very proud to call myself a Cuban-American.
Like Mayda, the first woman profiled in the following video was among the 14,000 children to flee communist Cuba through the Peter Pan Program:
“The exodus of the Cuban children was virtually unknown for over 30 years,” according to PedroPan.org. “The name [Operation Pedro Pan] had only appeared in print in March of ’62 and in a Reader’s Digest article in 1988.” More background:
Approximately half of the minors were reunited with relatives or friends at the airport. More than half were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, directed by a young 30 year old Irish priest, Bryan O. Walsh. The children from the Cuban Refugee Children’s Program were placed in temporary shelters in Miami and relocated in 30 States.
Many children of the Unaccompanied Cuban Children’s program are unaware that they were part of history in the making. Today, we are trying to locate all the children that came alone and were part of this historical exodus. Please help us locate the grown children of Pedro Pan!
If you happen to be one of those grown children and would like to share your story alongside Mayda’s, please send us a note. (One child grew up to became a U.S. senator, another the mayor of Denver, and another the U.S. ambassador to Spain.) To get a sense of what things were like in the refugee camp in Miami, check out the following film produced in 1969 by the U.S. Information Agency, The Lost Apple, which documented stories of the young Cubans and served as anti-Communist propaganda for the U.S. during the Cold War:
The president is failing, and Americans are paying for his failures.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” said President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden on March 13. Those words will probably end up as the epitaph of his presidency, the single sentence that sums it all up.
Trump now fancies himself a “wartime president.” How is his war going? By the end of March, the coronavirus had killed more Americans than the 9/11 attacks. By the first weekend in April, the virus had killed more Americans than any single battle of the Civil War. By Easter, it may have killed more Americans than the Korean War. On the present trajectory, it will kill, by late April, more Americans than Vietnam. Having earlier promised that casualties could be held near zero, Trump now claims he will have done a “very good job” if the toll is held below 200,000 dead.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
If there is a way to stop COVID-19, it will be by blocking its proteins from hijacking, suppressing, and evading humans’ cellular machinery.
Twenty-nine. That’s the number of proteins the new coronavirus has, at most, in its arsenal to attack human cells. That’s 29 proteins to go up against upwards of tens of thousands of proteins comprising the vastly more complex and sophisticated human body. Twenty-nine proteins that have taken over enough cells in enough bodies to kill more than 80,000 people and grind the world to a halt.
If there is a way—a vaccine, therapy, or drug—to stop the coronavirus, it will be by blocking these proteins from hijacking, suppressing, and evading humans’ cellular machinery. The coronavirus may sound small and simple with its mere 29 proteins, but that is also what makes it hard to fight. It has so few weak spots to exploit. Bacteria, in comparison, might have hundreds of their own proteins.
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
Contact tracing is working in South Korea and Singapore. But it raises privacy issues.
It’s a cool fall evening in September 2020. With a bottle of wine in hand, you slide into the front seat of your car to drive to a dinner party with close friends. It’s been eight months since you’ve seen most of them, at least outside of a computer screen.
As you’re pulling out of the neighborhood, you feel your phone buzz. It’s an alert from the new agency overseeing the coronavirus outbreak. On the lock screen, you can read the words “BE ADVISED.” Your heart sinks as you unlock the phone to read the rest of the message:
We have determined that in the past few days, you may have interacted with somebody who has recently tested positive for COVID-19. There is no need to panic. But for the sake of your family, friends, and neighbors, we are relying on your support. As soon as you can, please …
Netflix’s Tiger King is the apotheosis of extreme storytelling: The more unfathomable and ethically dubious, the better.
This article contains spoilers through all seven episodes of Tiger King.
At this particular moment, the most-watched show in America is a seven-part documentary series about a gay, polygamous zoo owner in Oklahoma who breeds tigers, commissions and stars in his own country-music videos, presides over what he describes as “my little cult” of drifters and much younger men, and ran for governor of Oklahoma in 2018 on a libertarian platform. He’s also currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for, among other charges, trying to arrange the assassination of his nemesis, an animal-sanctuary owner in Florida. And his business allies include another big-cat breeder—a yoga-loving guru in Myrtle Beach who runs what appears to be a tiger-themed sex sect.
Our culture writers’ top picks for how to stay entertained—without a streaming subscription
The economic repercussions of the coronavirus crisis mean that money is tight for many right now. Entertainment services such as streaming subscriptions may be a necessary expense to cut—even as social isolation and stay-at-home orders leave people with a lot of time to kill and a pressing need for distraction. Luckily, the internet offers plenty of no-cost resources, including thousands of public-domain audiobooks available on LibriVox and many hours of ambient songs on the Free Music Archive. To help you narrow down the options, here are some of our culture writers’ top choices for free quarantine entertainment.
There’s an elegant simplicity to the setup of COLORS shows: just an artist, a mic, and a monochromatic set. Without the distractions of extensive design, audience feedback, and potent beats, the musicians’ voices soar. One of my favorite videos on the channel is a January 2019 recording in which the Swedish Gambian singer Seinabo Sey sings “Truth,” a single from her sophomore album, I’m a Dream. By the time I stumbled upon the COLORS rendition, I’d already played the record tons of times (seriously, it’s wonderful), but I was still startled by the sheer force of Sey’s vocals. I stopped to really listen in a way I often don’t. The series is great for that—snapping you outside your own head, often with the work of artists you’ve never heard of before. — Hannah Giorgis
What is actually known about hydroxychloroquine, the medication that Trump is fixated on recommending for COVID-19
Two weeks ago, French doctors published a provocative observation in a microbiology journal. In the absence of a known treatment for COVID-19, the doctors had taken to experimentation with a potent drug known as hydroxychloroquine. For decades, the drug has been used to treat malaria—which is caused by a parasite, not a virus. In six patients with COVID-19, the doctors combined hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin (known to many as “Z-Pak,” an antibiotic that kills bacteria, not viruses) and reported that after six days of this regimen, all six people tested negative for the virus.
The report caught the eye of the celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who has since appeared on Fox News to talk about hydroxychloroquine 21 times. As Oz put it to Sean Hannity, “This French doctor, [Didier] Raoult, a very famous infectious-disease specialist, had done some interesting work at a pilot study showing that he could get rid of the virus in six days in 100 percent of the patients he treated.” Raoult has made news in recent years as a pan-disciplinary provocateur; he has questioned climate change and Darwinian evolution. On January 21, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Raoult said in a YouTube video, “The fact that people have died of coronavirus in China, you know, I don’t feel very concerned.” Last week, Oz, who has been advising the president on the coronavirus, described Raoult to Hannity as “very impressive.” Oz told Hannity that he had informed the White House as much.
Both the president and his party are committed to a long-term project of impunity from both the law and the electorate.
An hour or so into Monday’s daily presidential briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, Trump declared that his political opponents should “not be allowed” to win the 2020 presidential election.
Democrats “want to make Trump look as bad as they can, because they want to try and win an election that they shouldn't be allowed to win based on the fact that we have done a great job. We built the greatest economy in the world. I'll do it a second time,” Trump declared. “We got artificially stopped by a virus that nobody ever thought possible and we handled it and we've built a team and we built an apparatus that's been unbelievable.”
Even for Trump, who spits falsehoods at a breathtaking pace, that paragraph is remarkable; as a retired moisture farmer from Tatooine once put it, every word of what he just said was wrong. Job growth under Trump has been slower than during his predecessor’s last three years in office. The president was warned about the danger posed by the novel coronavirus in early January, and chose to ignore his advisers, believing it was another public-relations problem he could bluster his way through. The economy had to be “artificially stopped” because the federal government dithered until early March, as Trump insisted the Chinese government had the outbreak contained and falsely told the public that cases would “soon be down to zero.” The Democratic Party, despite its criticisms of the president, is prepared to hand him another $1 trillion in stimulus funds to prop up the economy, which is $3 trillion more than the zero dollars Republicans were willing to give his predecessor to prevent a severe economic downturn from becoming a depression.
The coronavirus pandemic and a chapter of history that should have expired long ago
In a large windowlessroom in the bowels of the CIA, there is a sign that reads Every day is September 12th. When I first saw those words, during a tour of the agency’s operations, I felt conflicted. As a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks, I once felt that way myself, but by the time I saw the sign, during the second term of the Obama administration, it seemed to ignore all the things that our country had gotten wrong because of that mindset. Now, as COVID-19 has transformed the way that Americans live, and threatens to claim exponentially more lives than any terrorist has, it is time to finally end the chapter of our history that began on September 11, 2001.
I say that as someone whose life was shaped by 9/11. I was a 24-year-old graduate student working on a city-council campaign when I watched the second plane curve into the World Trade Center and then saw the first tower collapse. Everything that I’d done in my life up to that point suddenly seemed trivial. I walked several miles to my apartment, as my fellow New Yorkers came out into the streets to be near one another (as we can’t be today). In the days that followed, my Queens neighborhood was the setting for a number of funerals for firemen. I will never forget the image of one devastated widow sitting in a lawn chair in her front yard, receiving condolences from a line of the toughest—but most broken—men I had ever seen.