A Personal Story: 19 Years to Citizenship in the U.S. / by Shayanne Gal

In August 1998, my family and I arrived as immigrants to America. Today, March 30, 2017, almost 19 YEARS later, I *finally* became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America!!! 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

It's been a huge 19 years for me ... considering I'm only 24, this citizenship application process has taken up 80% of my life. It's been 19 years of registrations, visa renewals, mandatory yearly trips to the U.S. Embassy abroad (a.k.a. taking weeks off school and work to go to Canada, standing in line for hours at a time in sub-freezing temperatures, and waiting for interviews), biometrics sessions, alien numbers, green cards, citizenship tests, and naturalization interviews.

In these 19 years, I've learned to love this country so much - to truly and fully appreciate the privilege it is to be here, and to exercise the rights that it offers.

I arrived here with limited English proficiency, but the need for the language was urgent. My strong and incredible parents are both immigrants who learned with me, and I quickly realized how important it was to master the language - and after a few encounters, I especially realized how important it was to make SURE that no one would ever try to take advantage of my family because we weren't fluent enough or sounded "foreign". Through the educational system I was brought up in, I have not only mastered the language, but have gone on to teach EFL abroad to international students so that they may have the same opportunity I had to immerse myself in this new world. The U.S. gave me the opportunity to be the first person in my family to ever attend university, it gave me the opportunity to speak out on behalf of other people like me - people who left behind other countries, cultures, family members, and lives to pursue a new future and hope in the United States.

Today, I sat in a court house with 117 other individuals who have taken a similar path. These individuals came from all over the world, they comprised of different races, ethnicities, religious beliefs and so on. Within my direct vicinity, I sat by an Indian, Salvadorian, Russian, and Jamaican - but I am near certain that at least 90 different countries in the world were represented in that room today. And the one thing we all shared in common, was our sacrifice, our journey, and our love for the United States of America.

Oh, how beautiful it was, to see a room of immigrants from all over the world, with different backgrounds, languages, and cultures, stand together as one united body and recite The Pledge of Allegiance. (Seriously, I nearly teared up.) Just an epic reminder that THIS is what America is made of! A land of immigrants, a melting pot of hope.

We all listened as a judge told us of the freedoms and rights we inherited today in our great democracy. I know the irony is striking - with all that is happening in our political atmosphere - but albeit incredible because the platform that this country was built upon became all the more prevalent. The judge told us a story, of how some years back, during the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, a series of protests took place outside of the federal courthouse we sat in today. He told us about how people came, and they petitioned, and they rallied, and then ... they went home.

And he explained to us how amazing it was, that in our nation, a group of individuals can effectively protest against the government on the steps of a federal building, and then... they can go home. In many other countries, of course he pointed out, how unlikely this scenario could be. With the amount of dictatorial regimes and repressive governments across our globe, this story rings as a true miracle to humanity. People have fought and died for this right in America - the right to the 1st Amendment. And I am both inspired and honored to use this right to advocate for positive change in our government, and for the inclusion of immigrants like myself that diversify and contribute wholly to our great nation.

Today, I can say, sincerely and solemnly, that I am PROUD to be in this country, I am PROUD to carry out the privileges our presence here encompasses, I am PROUD of the immigrants that made and continue to make this country the great nation that it is ... and most of all: YES, I am, and will always be, PROUD to be an American! 🙌🏼❤🇺🇸