Marie is stern but self-assured—her strong disposition was evident from the moment she opened the door. She has lived a long life, but her face certainly does not reveal any evidence of her age. The décor of her house is simple and tasteful; the look on her face is relaxed and composed. She was the first to speak to me about her migration story and the struggles that she faced when obtaining her American citizenship.
Growing up, life for Marie in Haiti was far from easy. When she was twelve, both her parents passed away. She was attending school from the age of five until she was twelve, but she was never able to study consistently, especially after the death of her parents. Additionally, she contracted typhoid as a child, which hindered her ability to learn and go to school. According to her—given that she is very spiritual—only God could truly understand how difficult it was for her to surpass these trials in her life. As an adult, she realized there were no work opportunities for her and ultimately, no future happiness awaited her in Haiti. She struggled to maintain the status quo she faced in Haiti and was thus compelled to migrate to the United States. She was a migrant, like many, who were in search for a better life. She prayed to God that she would survive her journey to the US and that better opportunities were suspended in the horizon.
Marie’s initial days in the United States proved to be more challenging than she anticipated. Upon entering the country, her hope was that she could attend school to better her education and overall career prospects. However, the fight for survival proved to be relentless, and she was obligated to begin working tirelessly in order to pay the bills. Nonetheless, she was never able to attend school, but this is not to say that she gave up her pursuit of education.
She was encouraged to earn American citizenship because she knew that as a naturalized citizen, she would gain access to numerous benefits that would help her immensely in her future. And in order to naturalize as an American citizen, she would need to pass an interview with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, to her dismay, she had difficulty memorizing the questions that were in the study book and CD-ROM. Luckily, she was referred by a friend to see Paul-Andre Mondesir, the Haitian Community Social Advocate at the AFSC Miami office, who hosts free classes every week for Haitian immigrants that are preparing for the interview. All in all, Marie was able to attend school after all and increase her chances of becoming an American citizen.
Marie had numerous obstacles she needed to overcome while studying for the interview. Firstly, she was often unable to attend the classes because she was caring for her nephew at her house. Her nephew suffers from a mental handicap and requires a lot of attention. Additionally, the nephew’s mother and brother passed away, which means Marie is primarily caring for him. However, Paul accommodated Marie’s needs and held private study sessions at her house. Secondly, due to her memorization problems, she painfully feared that she would forget answers to interview questions. Paul patiently helped her conquer this fear, but it was a long process to assure her of her capability and intelligence. According to Marie, Paul provided her with both religious motivation to encourage her to continue studying and with word recall strategies to improve her memory. Thirdly, there was a language barrier that she needed to surpass. Learning English became a priority for her throughout each study session. In spite of these three difficulties, she successfully passed the interview and was naturalized as an American citizen!
Now that Marie is an American citizen, she confidently feels that she earned her citizenship and is truly American. She defines herself as Haitian-American because she was born in Haiti, but according to Marie, Haiti is no longer her country. She hopes that with her American citizenship she will obtain social security benefits and be able to petition for other family members to gain legal residence in the United States. She also hopes that her nephew can become an American citizen. Marie also plans to vote and use her democratic privileges wisely. All in all, Marie proudly professed that nowadays, “I have more joy in my heart,” and hopes to continue moving forward as an American citizen without ever looking back at her past in despair.
2014 AFIS Summer Intern
Fellowship in Latin American Studies (FILAS) Student at the University of Miami