“I like to be in America. Ok by me in America. Everything free in America For a small fee in America.”
One of my all-time favorite movie soundtracks is West Side Story. I’m not particularly big on musicals, however I can recite lots of songs from this classic musical and love story. There was a time when I loved going to the library and checking out CD’s to listen to, and for a while I was stuck on the West Side Story soundtrack, playing certain tracks over and over until I committed them to memory. A story of relentless love, heartbreak, turf wars, satire and cultural differences I related to the many perspectives, especially the immigrant experience.
Today was a big day for me in my immigrant experience. I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, and officially became recognized as an American citizen (after 8 years of “official” residency). I stood in the District Courthouse located in downtown D.C. with 116 immigrants at a ceremony that occurs once a month on the second Tuesday of the month. The ceremony lasted about 3 hours, with a judge presiding for about 45 minutes to deliver the Oath and officially welcome us as new defenders of the Constitution.
It’s a little bittersweet. Today, I filled out an application and put “American (USA)” after Country of Citizenship. In my heart, my homeland is the place that offered such cherished memories the first 8 years of my life. The place where I was conceived, the place that formed my first opinions about motherhood, friendships, love, fatherhood, and family. That place is Costa Rica. It is true that America molded me into the young woman I am today. I completed formal schooling here from elementary school to graduate school (In totality I’ve spent 22 years in the US). I learned English, which unlocked my voice, gift and my talent. I am offered the opportunity now to take my education and work anywhere I choose doing something I truly enjoy. It was my mother’s American Dream, and she can live it vicariously through me. Yet, I cannot deny the fact that America’s politics and history bothers me, and it is an internal conflict that I previously compartmentalized because I wasn’t officially an “American.” Now, as I am joining the voting population days before my 29th birthday and can access government jobs and many things I had been previously excluded from, I have the opportunity to come to terms with my views and decide how I want to act accordingly.
When I go home to Costa Rica, I am a gringa because most of my years were spent living outside of Costa Rica. Yet, when I am in the United States I go out of my way to let people know I’m other. I, like many other immigrants, don’t belong in any one place. I don’t mind navigating both, but I can’t deny that American citizenship with its duties, is foreign. Nonetheless, I embrace and am thankful for this day…for the freedoms afforded, for the sacrifices my mother and family made so that I could reach this goal. I cannot be ungrateful, I have to recognize my immigrant experience is a big part of what makes me Tracey. Just like Costa Rica is my heart- it represents my beginnings, America has been my home away from home and it represents my present and future.
I’m glad to be here.