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:
No matter what happens now, the virus will continue to circulate around the world.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has sickened more than 16.5 million people across six continents. It is raging in countries that never contained the virus. It is resurgingin manyof the ones that did. If there was ever a time when this coronavirus could be contained, it has probably passed. One outcome is now looking almost certain: This virus is never going away.
The coronavirus is simply too widespread and too transmissible. The most likely scenario, experts say, is that the pandemic ends at some point—because enough people have been either infected or vaccinated—but the virus continues to circulate in lower levels around the globe. Cases will wax and wane over time. Outbreaks will pop up here and there. Even when a much-anticipated vaccine arrives, it is likely to only suppress but never completely eradicate the virus. (For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination.) We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.
Schools are essential to the functioning of our society, and that makes teachers essential workers.
The other day my husband, a public-school teacher in New York City, got a string of texts from a work friend. After checking in on our family and picking up their ongoing conversation about books and TV shows, she wrote, “So, are we going on a teacher strike in the fall?”
“What!? No!” My husband is adamantly against a strike, because he understands on a deep, personal level his duty to serve his country in the classroom.
We have two young children, one of whom is developmentally disabled, and I’m an intensive-care nurse. Through the spring, I took care of COVID-19 patients at the hospital while he toggled between teaching on Zoom and helping our daughters through their own lessons. He knows that I did my part for society, and that now he should, too.
President Donald Trump finally seems to have noticed that he’s losing the election.
Trump has sought to project confidence about his odds of triumphing over Joe Biden, even as the pandemic has blazed across the country, the economy has tanked, and his poll numbers have sagged. In the midst of an ever-worsening national crisis that his administration has given up on even pretending to contain, Trump has taken solace in extreme selectivity: his high approval ratings within the shrinking Republican Party—96 percent, he noted in a recent tweet—and his approval ratings from Rasmussen Reports, a pollster that has generally shown higher favorability for the president than any other and whose work FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has described as “mediocre.”
Some of the signers of a controversial open letter don't stand behind its most alarming demand.
Princeton University is consumed from top to bottom with what seems to be the question of the moment: How should it reorder itself to fight racism?
The school’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, ordered 23 of the institution’s most senior academic and administrative leaders to focus on how to marshal Princeton’s teaching, research, operations, and partnerships in service of “eliminating racism” on and off campus. By August 21, they are to report on what specifically can be done “to identify, understand, and combat” it. The university is also giving $1,500 grants to students who want to fight racism, and has made available new funding for faculty to run scholarly projects or expand course offerings related to racism.
Five years ago, the flight vanished into the Indian Ocean. Officials on land know more about why than they dare to say.
1. The Disappearance
At 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The designator for Malaysia Airlines is MH. The flight number was 370. Fariq Hamid, the first officer, was flying the airplane. He was 27 years old. This was a training flight for him, the last one; he would soon be fully certified. His trainer was the pilot in command, a man named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who at 53 was one of the most senior captains at Malaysia Airlines. In Malaysian style, he was known by his first name, Zaharie. He was married and had three adult children. He lived in a gated development. He owned two houses. In his first house he had installed an elaborate Microsoft flight simulator.
It is time to stop pretending. Our children are staying home.
In March, we were all living in 15-day increments. Working from home and distance learning, for those who had the terrible luxury of such things, would be a weeks-long affair, surreal but temporary. Fifteen days to flatten the curve. Fifteen days to slow the spread.
Scientists warned us even then that a return to normalcy would take longer, but the telescoped timeline had obvious appeal. You can put up with almost anything for just 15 days.
Acting on the chance to get it right was essential, but we now know it was not temporary. We’ve seen the failures—in testing, in containment, in federal and state leadership—compound in catastrophic ways. And as our pandemic summer has stretched on, many of us have let go, one by one, of experiences from the world we used to inhabit. We bid goodbye to sleepaway camp, to live music, to distant travel, to boisterous weddings, and to spontaneity in general. Today, a new realization is dawning, and as the debate over schools reopening rages, we must acknowledge it plainly: We aren’t going back to how it was. And we shouldn’t.
How is it that six months into a respiratory pandemic, we are still doing so little to mitigate airborne transmission?
I recently took a drive-through COVID-19 test at the University of North Carolina. Everything was well organized and efficient: I was swabbed for 15 uncomfortable seconds and sent home with two pages of instructions on what to do if I were to test positive, and what precautions people living with or tending to COVID-19 patients should take. The instructions included many detailed sections devoted to preventing transmission via surfaces, and also went into great detail about laundry, disinfectants, and the exact proportions of bleach solutions I should use to wipe surfaces, and how.
My otherwise detailed instructions, however, included only a single sentence on “good ventilation”—a sentence with the potential to do some people more harm than good. I was advised to have “good air flow, such as from an air conditioner or an opened window, weather permitting.” But in certain cases, air-conditioning isn’t helpful. Jose-Luiz Jimenez, an air-quality professor at the University of Colorado, told me that some air conditioners can increase the chances of spreading infection in a household. Besides, “weather permitting” made it all seem insignificant, like an afterthought.
Superfans know the Florida theme park is a dangerous destination during the pandemic. But to them, a visit means more than a vacation.
Almost as soon as Serena Lyn stepped back inside the Magic Kingdom, she burst into tears. It’d been four months since the theme park and crown jewel of Walt Disney World’s Florida stronghold had shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before the parks closed, Lyn had been visiting them twice a week; it was part of her job as a Disney blogger and an Instagrammer with more than 71,000 followers. As a devoted Disney fan who’d moved with her husband, two kids, and dog to Orlando, close enough to the parks to see their fireworks shows every night, not being able to set foot inside Disney World had been painful.
So when the employees—“cast members,” in park parlance—greeted Lyn and her fellow returning annual passholders on July 9 with a warm welcome outside of the shops along Main Street, Lyn became overwhelmed. “I was bawling,” she said when we FaceTimed a week after she attended Disney World’s grand reopening. “I looked around, and everyone was crying.”
A fire in a structure near the port area of Beirut, Lebanon, led to an enormous explosion that shook the city. The shockwave from the blast destroyed buildings close by and shattered glass for miles around.
On August 4, a fire in a structure near the port area of Beirut, Lebanon, led to an enormous explosion that shook the city. The shockwave from the blast destroyed buildings close by and shattered glass for miles around, causing at least 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries, according to reporting from Reuters. The exact cause of the fire and explosion has yet to be determined. Below are some early images from the aftermath in Beirut.