Last week at lunch a coworker and I started a conversation based on what we both were eating that afternoon – salad.
I told her that I was on a quest to lose 20 pounds so that I could attempt to drop down to 190 before we headed to Brazil in mid-June (and so that I could fit in that Brazilian Speedo of mine. I’m kidding).
And thus became a 40-minute conversation that ended with her saying, “Wow, you’re full of interesting stories.”
I don’t find myself interesting nor have I thought of myself as a storyteller (that’s usually my dad’s job), or one that has a ton of life-experience stories.
But maybe I am full of interesting stories. After all, in a 40-minute conversation we talked about how I met my Brazilian wife and how my family and I battled my wife’s leukemia.
All that led to one last interesting story that I teased as she walked away, “Oh yah, and tomorrow she’ll be sworn in as a U.S. citizen.”
There is one constant through these stories, and it’s my wife.
Anyone that has met, or that has gotten to know my wife, knows that she’s normally not an exciting person.
In fact, she’d be the first to say that she’s kinda boring. She doesn’t get too excited about anything. She likes to remain drama-free. She remains calm during stressful situations. She doesn’t get too angry or too sad (or even too happy). She’s laid back, easygoing, and the most low maintenance female you’ll ever meet.
So it’s funny that when I share these stories the main character is my wife.
On Tuesday Lis was officially naturalized; sworn in as a U.S. citizen after a few months of paperwork, interviews and a pop history quiz that she nailed.
It was an incredible ceremony to witness.
Thirty-eight immigrants (let’s not confuse the word ‘immigrants’ with the word ‘illegal’) from 18 countries being sworn in as U.S. citizens.
It’s an honor us Born in the U.S.A. folks take for granted.
I was happy that my parents, my brother, his wife and our little niece were able to drive over and attend the ceremony. I’m sure it was a positive experience for them all.
I was also happy that the kids got to witness their mom’s achievement.
Lukas is actually starting a fifth-grade citizenship program, on February 1, where he has to learn the facts of becoming a U.S. citizen (shouldn’t we all?), do community service, learn about respecting our flag, and study the 100 questions his mom had to study before she took her citizenship test.
What a great experience for him to witness, and later tell his class about.
How does this immigration to naturalization process work?
It’s one a lot of us aren’t sure about, and a lot of us get wrong.
You’d be surprised how many times we were congratulated with, “You’re not illegal anymore!”
Let’s get this straight, Lis was not illegal, nor has she ever been illegal.
I met her in ’02 when she was living here on a student visa that allowed her to work as an au pair as she attended college courses to better her English. When her visa expired she returned to Brazil. She did not spend one day in this country illegally.
Lis and I were married in Brazil in ’03. And believe it or not, it was because we actually liked each other and each other’s families. Not because she wanted to obtain a Green Card (aka become a lawful permanent resident), so she can come live in what we like to call the “Land of the Free.” Yes, you’d also be surprised at the few times we actually heard the “because of a Green card” murmurs after we were hitched.
We decided to pursue lives in the United States because we were dumb and thought life would be better here. I say dumb because we were both teaching English in Brazil and loving it. To this day the English-school experience was one of my most favorite experiences of my lifetime.
However, things happen for a reason and if Lis were to have gotten sick (which she did two years later) in her little town of Barra Bonita, the end result may have been different than her receiving treatment in the Seattle area, a place known for it’s amazing treatment of cancer.
The process of getting Lis to the United States was not easy. There were numerous trips to and from the consulate in Rio de Janeiro (a 6-hour bus ride). There were numerous trips to the city, state and federal offices all to get documents signed. There was plenty of paperwork and dollars spent. Still, we played by the rules. We made sure every document was correct (and had to go back if it wasn’t), and we knew that if the U.S. Embassy was going to reject her, we were content with staying in Brazil.
She was accepted after having to prove that she actually knew things about me (what side of the bed we like to sleep on, my mom’s birthday) and after we had turned in everything the correct way.
Her temporary resident card was good for two years, because the government wants to make sure you’re not marrying just for naturalization and that you actually like each other.
We made it two years so she then went through a smaller process with more paperwork and another mini-interview so that she can receive her permanent resident card AKA a Green Card, which was to be renewed 10 years thereafter.
It was set to expire this month so instead of renewing at $450 we decided to pay the $680 to make her a U.S. citizen (which never renews).
The difference between a Green Card and a U.S. citizen? Really only that you get to vote, we have to add another passport to the eight we already need to get to travel between Brazil and the United States, and we can now apply for The Amazing Race.
Social Security, driver’s license, and freedom (she could come in and out of our country with ease with a Green Card) were already benefits of being a permanent resident. Again, having a Green Card doesn’t mean your illegal.
In fact, if she was illegal she wouldn’t have been able to become a U.S. citizen.
Immigration is a touchy subject in this country. I love the fact that our country is so diversified, that we welcome so many people into this country year in and year out, however, I also believe in playing by the rules.
Things got a little touchy, and our opinion on immigration changed years back when Lis’ sister and mom were denied a visitor’s visa because my sister-in-law was young and single.
She was currently making more in Brazil than I was making here in the United States. She had been with her company for 12 years. Why would she leave that country, a country that is not in war or turmoil (and has 30-day paid vacations), to come live with us? How can they deny a sister and a mother (who speaks no English) a chance to visit with their family while people – not playing by the rules – are running around illegally. It drove us nuts!
No, we’re not a fan of Trump’s stupid idea of deporting everyone immediately (how is that possible?), but we are fans of playing by the rules and making the rules harder because of the crazy world we live in.
It’s hard work, from start to finish, but like everything else in this wonderful country of ours you should be rewarded for your hard work and not have it handed it to you.
Something the judge mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing but you can watch the ceremony in the video above) was that now that you’re in America you need to play a part in our country and the community you live in.
But you also need to remember where you came from, because it’s those customs, traditions, and history that helps make this country great. Judges are so cool!
I’m very, very proud of my wife for her accomplishment.
And we’ll see you on The Amazing Race in 2017! 😉