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 pandemic has exposed a fundamental weakness in the system.
America has too many managers.
In a 2016 Harvard Business Review analysis, two writers calculated the annual cost of excess corporate bureaucracy as about $3 trillion, with an average of one manager per every 4.7 workers. Their story mentioned several case studies—a successful GE plant with 300 technicians and a single supervisor, a Swedish bank with 12,000 workers and three levels of hierarchy—that showed that reducing the number of managers usually led to more productivity and profit. And yet, at the time of the story, 17.6 percent of the U.S. workforce (and 30 percent of the workforce’s compensation) was made up of managers and administrators—an alarming statistic that shows how bloated America’s management ranks had become.
There are no simple rules for timing on a third jab—but maybe don’t rush it.
After a long and tense meeting today, an FDA committee unanimously recommended that the agency authorize third shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for Americans who are over 65 or at high risk of severe COVID. The vote came after the panel voted overwhelmingly against the original question up for its consideration: authorizing boosters for everyone over 16. If the FDA follows the committee’s recommendation (as is expected), a CDC committee will help refine those guidelines next week, clarifying which groups qualify as “high risk.”
Even as we await these final decisions, the nation’s summer wave of COVID infections seems like it’s beginning to pass. Cases and hospitalizations are trending slightly downward. Now that we have more clarity about whether (and which) Americans need booster shots—and given that so many people are already getting boosters, eligibility be damned—more questions loom: When, exactly, should those people get those shots? Is it better to load up on extra antibodies as soon as possible, or should people wait until COVID rates start to rise again?
Conventional wisdom says that venting is cathartic and that we should never go to bed angry. But couples who save disagreements for scheduled meetings show the benefits of a more patient approach to conflict.
For decades, when Liz Cutler’s husband, Tom Kreutz, did something that bothered her, Cutler would sometimes pull out a scrap of paper from the back of her desk drawer. On it she would scribble down her grievances: maybe Kreutz had stayed late at work without giving her a heads-up, or maybe he’d allowed their kids to do something she considered risky. The list was Cutler’s way of honoring a promise she and her husband had made. They would talk about their frustrations only in scheduled meetings—which they held once a year for a time, and later, every three months. It’s a system they’ve adhered to for more than 40 years.
Any psychologist will tell you that conflict is both an inevitable and a vital part of a close relationship. The challenge—which can make the difference between a lasting, satisfying partnership and one that combusts—is figuring out how to manage conflict constructively.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them. Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful.
If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why.
Some advocates on the left want America to talk about pregnancy and birth in gender-neutral terms. But this language change might not be so easy for the country to embrace.
Last year, a brand-new labor-and-delivery hospital opened on the well-to-do Upper East Side of New York City. Its name, the Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns, might strike most people as innocuous or straightforward. But to some people, the suggestion that a hospital where babies are born is for women is offensive, because transgender and nonbinary people who do not identify as women can also get pregnant and deliver babies.
Only niche groups tend to care about how Americans discuss gender and pregnancy—including whether it’s better to use the term pregnant people instead of pregnant women. But those groups care a lot. Representative Cori Bush of Missouri used the termbirthing people in a hearing, causing a mini-uproar on social media. “When we talk about ‘birthing people,’ we’re being inclusive. It’s that simple,” the pro-abortion-rights group NARAL tweeted in her defense. Others, however, see this kind of language as exclusionary because it erases women and mothers as worthy categories of identity. Ann Romney, the wife of Senator Mitt Romney, tweeted angrily in June, “The Biden administration diminishing motherhood to ‘birthing person’ is simply insulting to all moms.” It was the first time she had tweeted all year.
Justin Trudeau’s reelection bid forces the left to ask whether it prioritizes policy victories or ideological purity.
Let’s start with what’s undeniable: Justin Trudeau has achieved a progressive’s wish list of policy accomplishments. Since becoming Canada’s prime minister in 2015, he has raised taxes on the rich, legalized marijuana, put a rising price on carbon, renegotiated NAFTA, centered women’s rights in the country’s foreign policy, reduced child poverty to its lowest level in decades, and resettled tens of thousands of refugees. By any measure, Trudeau is the most progressive leader of my lifetime. So why don’t progressives—even ones, like me, who have worked for him—love him?
The answer is complicated. Canadians go to the polls on Monday in an election that Trudeau called from a position of strength. He was hoping to ride his array of policy achievements to turn his minority government into a majority one, but a new wave of the pandemic—Canada’s fourth—has changed his prospects.
Arizona state-Senate Republicans launched the process this spring as a response to false claims of election fraud spread by several of themselves, as well as former President Donald Trump. The Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a firm run by a “Stop the Steal” backer that has repeatedly declined to offer any evidence it is qualified for the job. The process was originally expected to conclude by May 14. This was a hard deadline, because the coliseum rented for the count was due to hold another event. But the count missed that deadline, and the process resumed later in May.
A group of films, ranging from art-house gems to big blockbusters, that deserve a fresh look
Moviegoing is at a strange, tenuous moment. With pandemic fears still circulating, and many studios still delaying their films’ release dates, not everyone is comfortable going back to theaters yet. But this is also a time of extraordinary at-home accessibility for cinema, with many thousands of titles available to stream, or digitally rent and buy, every day. So I’ve returned to a topic that sustained me during 2020’s most isolated moments: celebrating underrated and unique movies in need of wider appreciation. The following 26 films cross every genre and range from art-house to blockbuster. They were all unappreciated by critics or audiences on release and deserve a fresh look.
It’s surprisingly easy to get unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines for 10- and 11-year-olds who can “pass” for 12.
These days, the distance between ages 11 and 12 is more than a year. It is a chasm between danger and safety. Vaccines promise people 12 and older protection from COVID-19, but aren’t yet approved in the U.S. for younger children, and it isn’t clear exactly when they will be. Frustrated by the wait and desperate to protect their children, some parents are sneaking their 10- and 11-year-old kids across this chasm, and hoping not to get caught.
Meghan’s 10-year-old son has just started in-person school in Los Angeles County, and he’s fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Meghan asked to be identified by her first name only, because she’s afraid of consequences if her lies are found out.) This summer, the rapidly spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus had Meghan worried for her kids’ safety. Her older children, ages 12 and 15, are also fully vaccinated, but the vaccines are still not approved for children younger than 12. So Meghan lied about her 10-year-old’s age. And this wasn’t her first time.
The dining room of the French ambassador’s residence is one of the most beautiful places in Washington, D.C., a confection of frothed plaster overlooking a garden in the poodle-clipped style the French so love. Before COVID-19, the room was known for the discussion sessions held there, hosted by a gracious series of ambassadors. It’s been a long time since anyone was able to enjoy an in-person event at the residence. So when invitations arrived to celebrate Constitution Day, September 17, at the residence in a lunchtime discussion with a former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and an equally distinguished French judge, well, the RSVPs returned quickly.
The timing, however, was unfortunate, as it coincided with an angry upset in Franco-American relations. The United States had snatched a $90 billion submarine contract with Australia from French shipyards. To add (security policy) insult to the (lost jobs and revenues) injury, the redirected submarine contract would consolidate a new U.S.-U.K.-Australia naval defense agreement in the Indo-Pacific, an agreement into which France had not been invited.