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): email@example.com.
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:
A controversial video of Catholic students clashing with American Indians appeared to tell a simple truth. A second video called that story into question. But neither shows what truly happened.
In a short, viral videoshared widely since Friday, Catholic high-school students visiting Washington, D.C., from Kentucky for the March for Life appeared to confront, and mock, American Indians who had participated in the Indigenous Peoples March, taking place the same day.
By Saturday, the video had been condensed into a single image: One of the students, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, smiles before an Omaha tribal elder, a confrontation viewers took as an act of aggression by a group of white youths against an indigenous community—and by extension, people of color more broadly. Online, reaction was swift and certain, with legislators, news outlets, and ordinary people denouncing the students and their actions as brazenly racist.
Next time there’s a viral story, I’ll wait for more facts to emerge.
Like many people who spend too much time on Twitter, I watched with indignation Saturday morning as stories began appearing about a confrontation near the Lincoln Memorial between students from Covington Catholic High School and American Indians from the Indigenous Peoples March. The story felt personal to me; I live a few miles from the high school, and my son attends a nearby all-boys Catholic high school. I texted him right away, ready with a lesson on what the students had done wrong.
“They were menacing a man much older than them,” I told him, “and chanting ‘Build the wall!’ And this smirking kid blocked his path and wouldn’t let him leave.” The short video, the subject of at least two-thirds of my Twitter feed on Saturday, made me cringe, and the smirking kid in particular got to me: His smugness, radiating from under that red MAGA hat, was everything I wanted my teenagers not to be.
How Fyre Fraud and Tidying Up With Marie Kondo capture a precarious cultural moment
The fifth episode of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, Netflix’s effervescent new reality series, deals with Frank and Matt, a couple living in West Hollywood, California. Both writers, they have a touching love story involving Tinder, a too-small apartment filled with detritus from past roommates, and a burning desire to prove their adulting bona fides. They are, in short, the archetypal Millennial couple. The dramatic hook of the episode is that Frank’s parents are coming to visit for the first time, and Frank wants to impress them, to make them see “that the life we’ve created together is something to be admired.”
Frank and Matt, in other words, want their home to reflect their identities and sense of self (as opposed to the cutlery preferences of the people Matt lived with after college). They’ve internalized the idea that the signifiers of success are primarily visual. “I don’t know that I’ve given [my parents] any reason to respect me as an adult,” Frank agonizes at one point, which is absurd, given his apparently successful career and adorable relationship. “I’m organized in some aspects of my life. Like, professionally, my email inbox is organized, I’m great. And I just get frustrated with myself that I haven’t translated that into my home life. It feels like I give it all at work and then I come home and am like, pmph.” He makes a gesture like a deflated balloon.
Insights into the little-studied realm of last words
Mort Felix liked to say that his name, when read as two Latin words, meant “happy death.” When he was sick with the flu, he used to jokingly remind his wife, Susan, that he wanted Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played at his deathbed. But when his life’s end arrived at the age of 77, he lay in his study in his Berkeley, California, home, his body besieged by cancer and his consciousness cradled in morphine, uninterested in music and refusing food as he dwindled away over three weeks in 2012. “Enough,” he told Susan. “Thank you, and I love you, and enough.” When she came downstairs the next morning, she found Felix dead.
During those three weeks, Felix had talked. He was a clinical psychologist who had also spent a lifetime writing poetry, and though his end-of-life speech often didn’t make sense, it seemed to draw from his attention to language. “There’s so much so in sorrow,” he said at one point. “Let me down from here,” he said at another. “I’ve lost my modality.” To the surprise of his family members, the lifelong atheist also began hallucinating angels and complaining about the crowded room—even though no one was there.
Home to vibrantly colored, tiny creatures, the ecosystems floating on the ocean’s surface remain all but unknown.
Imagine you’re on a small boat in the middle of the open ocean, surrounded by what looks like a raft of plastic. Now flip the whole world upside down. You remain comfortably attached to your seat—the abyss towers above you, and all around, stretching up from the water’s surface, is an electric-blue meadow of life. What you thought was plastic is actually a living island. This meadow is made up of a diverse collection of animals. The most abundant are blue buttons and by-the-wind sailors, with bright-blue bodies that dot the sky like suns, and deep-purple snails found in patches so dense one scientist described collecting more than 1,000 in 20 minutes.
This is the neuston, a whole ecosystem living at the ocean’s surface. I once stumbled upon a raft of neuston when a storm blew it ashore in California. Many neustonic animals are vibrant highlighter colors, and the sand was saturated in bright blues and pale pinks. Together, these small creatures may function like upside-down coral reefs: an oasis of shelter and life far out to sea. As far back as the Cold War era, scientists were describing these colorful and important ecosystems, yet they still remain all but unknown. But now, as efforts to clean the ocean of plastic start up, our ignorance is putting this ecosystem at risk.
From West Virginia to Los Angeles, educators are ushering in a new era of labor activism.
In Los Angeles, more than 30,000 teachers remain on strike; it took union and city officials more than a week to eke out a tentative agreement that, they announced Tuesday morning, will likely bring them back to their classrooms this week. Last Friday, teachers from a handful of public schools in Oakland, California, staged a one-day walkout, too, and they’re planning for another demonstration this Wednesday. Meanwhile, a citywide strike is brewing a few states over in Denver, as could soon be the case in Virginia, where teachers are gearing up for a one-day rally in Richmond later this month. An educator uprising is even percolating in Chicago, where the collective-bargaining process is just getting started: “We intend to bargain hard,” the teachers’ union’s president told the Chicago Tribune last week.
Starting the process will rein in a president who is undermining American ideals—and bring the debate about his fitness for office into Congress, where it belongs.
On January 20, 2017,Donald Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol, raised his right hand, and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has not kept that promise.
Instead, he has mounted a concerted challenge to the separation of powers, to the rule of law, and to the civil liberties enshrined in our founding documents. He has purposefully inflamed America’s divisions. He has set himself against the American idea, the principle that all of us—of every race, gender, and creed—are created equal.
The 2020 candidate is pitching herself as the one who can actually put together a winning coalition of voters, a goal Democrats have obsessed over since their shocker loss in 2016.
Kamala Harris is a half-Jamaican, half-Indian woman from Oakland, California, the daughter of two UC Berkeley grad students. She went to high school in Montreal. She married a wealthy, white, Jewish lawyer later in life, and didn’t have kids of her own. When she’s not in Washington, she splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Her first name is Sanskrit and gets mispronounced all the time. She was being mentioned as a front-runner presidential candidate before she’d even headed over to her Senate victory party, all of two years and two months ago.
She is not, by biographical measures, representative of what most would see as the typical American experience. But Harris launched her presidential campaign Monday with a challenge to the rest of the field that—as she put it to me at the press conference she held in the afternoon in the lobby of the Interdisciplinary Research Building at her alma mater, Howard University—candidates who want to win have to speak to “the complexities of each of our lives, and pay equal attention to their needs.”
A look at the construction of Beijing Daxing International Airport, a massive new transportation facility set to open later this year
Beijing Daxing International Airport is a massive complex built on the outskirts of Beijing, China, from more than 220,000 tons of steel, with a price tag nearing 14 billion U.S. dollars, and is set for completion in September 2019. The new facility—billed as the world’s largest single-terminal airport—will be Beijing’s second international airport, and developers hope it will relieve pressure on overtaxed existing travel options. By 2025, planners say Daxing will be able to carry as many as 72 million passengers a year.
The internet once made it easier to slip from one domain to another. Is there a way to preserve that vital freedom?
Has the internet afforded humans more freedom, or less?
That’s a question I’m pondering anew thanks to the University of Michigan philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson, who provoked the thought while being interviewed by Nathan Heller for a recent profile in The New Yorker.
After Europe’s religious wars, Anderson mused, as centuries of conflicts between Catholics and Protestants gave way to a liberal, live-and-let-live order that tolerated freedom of religion, something remarkable happened:
People now have the freedom to have crosscutting identities in different domains. At church, I’m one thing. At work, I’m something else. I’m something else at home or with my friends. The ability not to have an identity that one carries from sphere to sphere but, rather, to be able to slip in and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining one’s identities in other domains? That is what it is to be free.