Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Your Stories of Becoming an American
Show Description +

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): hello@theatlantic.com.

Show 4 Newer Notes

‘I Grew Up Afraid and Guilty Over My Immigration Status’

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.

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.

“I do not have any photos of my early times in the U.S., but this is a photo of my Twenty Five years service to the United States federal service.” (Photo courtesy of Mayda R. Cruz)