The unnatural feeling of becoming a naturalized citizen

Ruben Palacios/Assistant Sports Director

Becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States is a little like turning 21 in that you die inside with the anticipation, but don’t really feel any different once it happens.

This past Friday, I sat in a room with 170 people from 38 different countries, and we were all there for the same reason: to become U.S. citizens. But, other than that, we had very little in common. These people were all much older than me. They had lived the majority of their lives in another country, and were now beginning new endeavors here in the United States.

I, on the other hand, arrived here from Cuba when I was five years old, and have lived the vast majority of my life in America. I, unlike the 170 people in the room with me, did not need a certificate to feel like an American.

The process as a whole was a little out of the ordinary. When I first appeared at the immigration office to take the exam that would determine my citizenship, I encountered many people similar to those at my ceremony. As I waited to be called upon to take my exam, I observed these people in nervous states of mind. Their insecurities wouldn’t let them stop flipping through their practice workbooks. This was a big deal for them, and a lot was riding on that exam. They reviewed the potential exam questions to themselves in butchered English and often answered in their language of origin.

I was finally called upon to take my oral exam, and felt no more nervous than my last trip to the dentist. I was prepared for this exam, not because I studied rigorously, but because the information that was going to be asked is such that any typical American would know. After all, I am your typical American.

As I sat down, the immigration officer in front of me wasted no time asking questions.

“How long have you lived here?”

“16 years,” I replied, startling him with fluent english.

“Why do you want to become a U.S. citizen?”

“Well, I’ve lived here all my life. I think it’s time I take the plunge,” I said.

“Lets get started then. First, I want you to write down the answer to this question. Where does the president live?”

“The president lives in the White House,” I wrote, feeling a bit demeaned.

“Good, I can tell this is going to be quite easy for you,” he said.

It was very easy. But I won’t forget the disappointed faces of those who had failed the exam, and realized they were not going to become Americans, at least for the time being.

See, it’s easy for me to know that the governor of Florida is Rick Scott, that the first Ten Amendments of the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights and that everyone is entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But for the 170 people in the ceremony room with me, this process was much more than passing a test. It’s about learning what it means to be an American. It’s about embracing new customs and new ways.

Today and for the rest of my life, I am officially an American. It was a seamless transition, as I embraced this country and accepted it as my own 16 years ago. And on Oct. 25, 2013, this country accepted me as its own, too. 

About the Author

Ruben Palacios
is the Assistant News Director of FIU student media, a sports junkie and a sneaker enthusiast. Not necessarily in that order. Loves the L.A. Lakers and Oakland Raiders. In that order.

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