Reporter's Notebook

Your Stories of Becoming an American
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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.

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Photo of Shiprock, a land formation in New Mexico, by reader Jimmy Rollison for our America by Air series.

Our latest reader contributor, Mar, became an American citizen in 2013 but now has uncertainty about her future in the U.S.:

In 2001, at the age of 12, I immigrated here from Spain with my parents. My father, a veterinarian, had lost his job and was offered a position (and visa) as a researcher at the FDA after applying for an opening online. The FDA benefitted from my father’s labor in that he performed the work of a veterinarian, but because he lacked a license to practice in the U.S., he was paid less than a licensed vet.

The only difference between myself and someone who crossed the border illegally is that I was born to a family with the means of immigrating legally when faced with economic forces beyond our control.

But I believe it’s still unclear to my parents and I if it was a good decision to immigrate here. My father is getting older and will not be able to afford retiring soon. Once he is unable to work full time, my parents might have to immigrate again somewhere where the cost of living is lower. (They do hang an American flag from their porch and watch Fox News.)

A reader tells the story of a brave accomplished American—her mom:

I saw that you guys are interested in hearing about naturalized citizens. My story is mildly interesting, but my mother’s is amazing (we are both naturalized citizens). This is her story to the best of my recollection.

My mom was born and raised in northern Iran. By all accounts, she was incredibly accomplished, even in her youth. She went to the best university at the time, Shiraz University, and studied horticulture. She went on to get a Master’s in that subject in Iran and later a PhD in the U.S.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When the Shah came to visit her hometown, my mom was chosen as the town’s ambassador to greet him at a young age. When she was in high school, my mom competed in what is essentially the Miss Iran contest, wherein the contestants had to tailor their own attire for one part of the event—another talent she has. Although she did not win, she was a finalist (apparently it’s all political).

During her university studies, my mom married a dapper basketball player who later became my father. The marriage was against the advice of all her family, I am told. My father became addicted to gambling and drugs. In Iran, as you may know, it is quite difficult for women to get divorced from their husbands. Once I was in the picture, Mom was focused on getting a divorce so she could safely get me out of Iran.

Her undergraduate training had been in English, and she and my father had lived in San Diego in the late 1970s (having moved back to Iran, sadly, just prior to the revolution). So my mom felt comfortable with English and figured out a way to get funding to pursue her PhD in the United States. The only trouble, then, was the divorce. It’s a long story involving having to get my father’s signature on a form wherein he admitted wrongdoing. She eventually managed to get that and the divorce, and we fled Iran in 1985. I was five years old at the time.