Becoming an American citizen

Becoming an American Citizen
Wilson Kubwayo receiving his U.S. citizenship on February 22, 2018 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Why I cried mixed tears when I became a naturalized US citizen of this country and why this is something refugees and immigrants do not generally talk about.

On February 22, 2018, I became a US citizen – a privilege given to me through life circumstances. Becoming a US citizen is a gift beyond my own efforts. I am very grateful to become an American citizen.

I cried mixed tears when I became an American citizen. I cried the tears of happiness and the tears of sadness. I was happy to become part of something bigger. Something that I can feel a connection to. A place that I could call home and really learn how to accept myself as a person who deserves to be valuable and appreciated.

When I became a citizen of this country, I felt something in me. I felt a sense of belonging despite the unspoken divisions among the American citizens themselves. I felt like I could finally be born again. I felt love and pride.

I can only speak for my own experiences in the life I have lived. I can only speak regarding my environment and my thought process when I asked myself, “Why can’t I go outside of the refugee camp and really chase my dream?” What kind of sin have I committed?  You can imagine how I felt growing up in exile, feeling the warmth of the sun but having no way out.

Living a rejection

I suppose I felt the way I did because of the way I grew up. I grew up as a rejected human being, so to speak. This is how I felt growing up in the refugee camp. Living a rejection of everyday life. A rejection of the longing to live as a citizen in a place that I could call home. A rejection of being allowed to freely search for life opportunities without a fence to stop me.

However, I appreciated the perks that come with being a global citizen. Such as being fed by the rest of the world and people you will never meet, and receiving second-hand clothes to wear and donated shoes to walk in. At the same time, I craved the first-hand experience of what life would be like to live in a country without being tied to stay in a refugee camp. I longed to live in a country that I can love because it’s mine to care for.

I would think to myself: “What would it be like to live in a country outside of a refugee camp? What would life look like if I had access to opportunities that would allow me to grow and have a chance to follow my dream?” All I ever hoped for was to live outside of the refugee camp. That is all I ever wanted.

Becoming a citizen of the United States of America

In the year of 2008, my family came to the United States as refugees. Ten years later, I became an American citizen. I still run out of words to express what it means for me to become a naturalized citizen.

Becoming a citizen of the United States of America was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made in my life. I did not become a citizen through my parents. I was already an adult when my parents became citizens of this country.

At age 23, I became an American citizen because I had options; I chose to become one.

It was not an easy choice to make because I knew very well that I had to take an oath to fully commit to my new country. I had to give up on something I never had. A feeling that I have always wanted to feel: to walk in the country that birthed me as its citizen. I cried mixed tears when I became an American citizen. Tears of joy of becoming part of something that is beyond my reach and my own efforts. An opportunity of a lifetime that I never thought I would ever get in my wildest thoughts. But I also cried the tears of sadness. The tears were heavy on my heart. It was more a kind of pain I never felt before. I cried the tears of giving up on something that I never had.

I remember taking the oath. I remember reciting these words. I remember leaving the past behind me and embracing a new future. Now that I am an American citizen, I truly believe my future is a future that I can invest in with my whole heart to chase the American dream.

Wilson shares what it means to become an American citizen.

Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God” (USCIS, 2018).

Becoming an American citizen is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I am excited about all the opportunities that come with being a U.S. citizen:

  • Traveling:
    I am excited to have one US passport that will make it easier for me to travel without endangering my life. As a citizen, I can get assistance from the US government when I need help and I am outside of the United States.
  • Voting:
    Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. Therefore, becoming a citizen of the United States means I too can vote in federal elections.
  • Bringing a family member:
    As a citizen, I can get priority in bringing a family member to this country.
  • Elected official:
    As a citizen, I can be elected to an office that requires citizenship; and I become eligible to work in federal jobs.

Finally, becoming a citizen of this country means showing love and patriotism to a country that has adopted me. I am glad that I was able to study for my citizenship by enrolling in the Refugee Center Online’s Citizenship course. 

Source:

USCIS (2018). Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved from https://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalization-test/naturalization-oath-allegiance-united-states-america

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About Wilson Kubwayo
Wilson is a refugee from Burundi, a motivational speaker and leads the Refugee Center Online's digital media strategy.