E Pluribus Unum. I stared at these three Latin words engraved in the Great Seal of the United States of America, whose image and description I found in the Citizen’s Almanac, given to me in a large envelope that contained many other booklets explaining my rights and responsibilities as an American citizen.
“Out of many, one.” I whispered to myself.
Sitting in the Sanctuary Events Center in Fargo, North Dakota, the state I have been calling home for the past four years, I was surrounded by 130 other immigrants who, like me, that day became American. We represented 37 countries, from Brazil and Vietnam, to Liberia and Italy. Black and white photos of immigrant families at Ellis Island were being shown on a big screen in front of us. As I looked at them, I couldn’t help but admire their courage and wonder how many of them came from southern Italy, as I did.
Our own American dream
I was about five years old when I began dreaming of, one day, going to see the land where freedom reigns supreme and you can become anything you want to. Every year, during summertime, we would gather to the fountain in the middle of the town square of our small city, founded by the Greeks centuries ago as their first colony in Italy. Every person in town waited a whole year for this event to happen: a son of the land would return home to tell us how he had fulfilled his American dream.
Women brought silver trays filled with rose petals and homemade confetti, a typical small Italian candy used to celebrate important occasions, a tradition that has been observed since the Roman Empire. Men, dressed in their tailored suits and coppola caps, stood together to exchange legendary stories they had heard about cowboys, policemen, and saloons, vowing to go visit the far-away promised land, one day.
As for us children, we were more excited about Hershey chocolate, candies, and American gum, which we knew he’d bring in abundance.
All the chatter stopped the moment we heard the honking horn of the Fiat 500 that brought our paesano home.
When the car stopped, he opened the door slowly, and stepped out with dignity and the air of somebody who had seen the world and knew truths and secrets reserved to only a few of us. We all parted to the sides to make way for his mother to walk towards her child.
Her pace was elegant and measured, and he took his fedora hat off as she got closer. Finally, she hugged him, the way only a mother who had been painfully missing her beloved son, can hug. The only noise was made by her sobbing into his shoulder. After a few minutes of respectful silence, she pinched his cheek and scolded him for looking thin, making all of us burst out in a reassuring laughter.
Stories heard during those gatherings shaped my imagination of what it would be like to live in this legendary country. Looking back now, I see that every step I took in my life since then—such as beginning to learn English at the age of five—has taken me to that naturalization ceremony, staring at the three Latin words that define America as a beautiful mosaic, a piece of art made of millions of small yet irreplaceable pieces, each one of them with its own heritage and history.
As part of that mosaic, I stood proud and tall while singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the conclusion of the ceremony. With teary eyes and trembling hand placed over my heart, I looked at my husband, my Airman, and the other military members who were in attendance. It was not lost on me that the only reason why I, as well as my fellow new U.S. citizens, could migrate to the land of the free, was because it is home of the brave.
Becoming a U.S. citizen as a military spouse
While the path to becoming an American citizen greatly depends on which country you are from, there are certain benefits that, as military spouses, we are granted—for example, you might be eligible for expedited naturalization.
If you wish to learn more regarding the process of becoming a naturalized citizen, or if you’d like to connect to fellow foreign military spouses, I recommend looking up the following resources:
- USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services)
Helpline (tollfree): 877-CIS-4MIL (877-247-4645)
- Foreign Military Spouse Association
- The Foreign Military Spouse Voice (Blog)