After a nerve-racking, 8-month-long naturalization application process and years of legal residency, my mother is finally one of us: an American Citizen.
I have chronicled her naturalization journey for a few months now. In that time, American-Statesman readers have emailed and called to ask about her process, to congratulate her passing her citizenship interview and to share their expectations of news of when my mother casts her first vote. It’s been an exciting and nerve-wrecking process, to be sure.
With the largest of hurdles behind her, my mom looks only forward to her life here as a new citizen of the United States.
Unfortunately for her — and other immigrants like her — citizenship alone won’t provide the reassurance she’d hoped to gain from attaining that 11×14 piece of paper that bestows upon her every single right granted to a person born in this country. (Except the right to be president – which, I can assure you, she has no interest in being.) Even with the piece of paper to prove she’s a citizen, she still looks and sounds like she doesn’t belong.
As I’ve written before, my mother decided to apply to become a citizen during last year’s presidential campaign season. She feared then-candidate Donald Trump’s immigration platform, which she considered divisive and anti-immigrant.
Trump’s campaign promise to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. worried her most. As she explained to me, an irrational idea like mass deportation could only be followed by more irrational ideas, including one that could target legal immigrants in this country. The very thought made her more anxious about her future here.
A legal resident for years, she lived without fear of deportation. That changed last year when she saw on television news how some groups embraced Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. So, she decided to ensure her future in the country she has loved and considered home for over 40 years and become a citizen.
One reason she’d waited so long to become as citizen, as I’ve mentioned before, was the racism she experienced when she first arrived and the random discrimination she endured since. She was always an outsider. As hard as she worked and as much as she assimilated, she knew she wasn’t an American — and nasty folks along the way reminded her of that.
On May 25, along with more than 540 other immigrants, my mother took her citizenship oath and renounced allegiance to her homeland of Mexico. I’ve never known her to show such pride in her own accomplishments. Until then, that look had been reserved for the accomplishments of her children and her grandchildren. We — my five siblings and more than a dozen nieces and nephews — were so proud of her.
For the first time in months, we allowed ourselves to feel relief on that day. Yes, we too wondered what might happen to our family if Trump created an “irrational” policy that took our mother away.
On our way to celebrate her new citizenship, she asked: So, do I have to carry this certificate around with me everywhere I go here in Texas?
It might have been a funny question for some, but it was a legitimate concern for my mother. No one was laughing.
It’s the same question that many Latinos in Texas are asking since Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 4, a measure which makes it a criminal offense for any government official to put a policy in place prohibiting cooperation with federal detention requests placed on jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Critics say the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, opens the door to racial profiling because it allows law enforcement officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions, such as traffic stops.
Texas’ discriminatory history against Latinos is long and deep. In some parts of the state — and in some parts of the country — looking and sounding different continues to be reason enough to harass. And now, Texas has a law that gives officers the right to openly doubt a person simply for looking differently.
This new law is what prompted my mother’s question. Her accent and still imperfect English, she said, will stand out.
Jokingly she added, “What’s a brown-skin girl have to do to fit in around here?”
Welcome to my world, mom.