Becoming an American on 9/11

I remember exactly where I was on September 11th 2001, I was at the university in Guatemala. Everyone started talking about what was going on in the United States and someone turned on a TV in the architecture workshop and I remember watching one of the twin towers engulfed in smoke. It seemed surreal and we all kept wondering if it was a hoax. This could not be happening! During my first years in college I had spent two summers in Manhattan and had friends there, I also had family in Washington D.C. and I remember feeling overwhelmed with sadness and fear. I wondered if my loved ones where ok and what the world would be like after this, because for me the world changed that day. Back then, on that terrifying day, I had no idea I would one day be calling the United States my home.

Every 9/11 I remember that day and the people who where lost, but this year I got the opportunity to remember 9/11 in a truly special and memorable way. On 9/11/2012 I took the oath of allegiance and became an American citizen . Becoming a citizen is already, in itself, a special and memorable day but becoming a citizen on 9/11 just took that to another level for me.

I was born in Guatemala, to Guatemalan parents but I have always loved the United States and felt like it was my second country. I studied in an American school where I was taught every subject in English by American teachers from the time I was in kindergarten to the day I graduated from high school. In college I spent two summers in Manhattan studying architecture and dreaming of transferring to NYU or Columbia. Before that my family had always traveled to the United States and I had visited many cities among them Miami, San Antonio, Baltimore, Washington D.C., San Francisco and New Orleans. But during those two summers in New York I truly fell in love not only with the city but with the country and it’s people. I never really thought I would end up living in the United States. I married an American and a couple of years later we decided that our children, who are both on the autism spectrum, would have better opportunities to live independent and meaningful lives in the United States and we moved here 4 years ago.

I started the process of becoming an American as soon as we moved here. At first it felt just like a process; I had to fill out paperwork, gather family pictures and financial proof that our marriage and our family was real and travel periodically to the nearest Citizenship and Immigration office in Tampa, about two and a half hours away from where we live. I was fingerprinted, photographed, interviewed and then fingerprinted and interviewed some more and finally I was given a date for my Naturalization exam. When I started studying for the test and realized I knew most of the answers already it dawned on me how much the United States had always been a part of my life.

Moving here had been hard. My heart ached for my family, my country, my language, my culture, my friends and I felt like an outsider. But as time went by I met wonderful friends who awoke in me a new calling and I realized that I could actually make a difference here. I discovered that the United States was giving me an opportunity my own country never gave me, the opportunity to change the world, to participate actively in shaping my community, the voice to speak out for the rights of children with disabilities and Latino children and the power to make a difference.

So when I received my naturalization certificate it truly felt natural that I was becoming an American and it felt right to be taking the oath of allegiance to the United States and becoming an American on 9/11.

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8 thoughts on “Becoming an American on 9/11”

  1. Que cara de felicidad tienes en la ultima foto! You look so happy in the last pic; I’m so happy and proud of you. For your life decisions you have been and will continue to be rewarded. Mil Abrazos to you dear friend and much, pero mucho mucho future success.


  2. Hola Paula,

    ¡Qué lindo! Congrats! It’a amazing how different people go through different experiences. I was lucky enough to have been born in an upper-middle class family in Uruguay, which allowed me to get the best education and an easy life. When I came to the U.S. in 2004, even though our life was always an adventure, it wasn’t as easy as I was used to have it. A fact that made me miss my country WAY TOO much. In 2009 I was naturalized and the first thing I did was getting my passport to leave the country for longer than 6 months without having to explain any body anything. Looking back, I was just a brat! But all those experiences made me the person I am today.

    Now, I celebrate the fact that in November I will choose MY president for the first time here in MY country. Moreover, in a final attempt to “go back to my culture,” I’ve realized (and I was made aware) that I’m more “gringa” than Latina and I seem to be more comfortable in the South than in Miami 😉

    Bottom line, there are as many stories as there are citizens. Congrats and welcome to OUR country 🙂

    • Gracias Silvina. I totally understand what you went through, I had a really tough time at first and would love to go back to Guatemala more often but when you have kids it’s not that easy. I am also very excited about participating in this election. It will be very different from voting in Guatemala, where it usually makes no difference, but here in the USA I really feel like my vote has some value.

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