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Backstory: Story That Hit the Closest to Home


Clockwise from top left: Faridar Ko, Ahmed Alsaeedi, Issouf Ouattara, Marta Ceroni (with her dog Frida) and Hameda Hinkle - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Clockwise from top left: Faridar Ko, Ahmed Alsaeedi, Issouf Ouattara, Marta Ceroni (with her dog Frida) and Hameda Hinkle

Since I moved to Vermont two years ago, people occasionally ask me when I became a citizen. I explain that I'm in the U.S. on a work visa. The inevitable follow-up question is: Do you plan to apply for citizenship?

The answer is pretty straightforward. I'm from Singapore, which doesn't recognize dual nationalities. I plan to return home, eventually, to my family and friends.

Besides, becoming a U.S. citizen is easier said than done. Even for those who are eligible, the process is unwieldy.

Photographer Matthew Thorsen and I covered a naturalization ceremony at the Shelburne Museum in September. I felt slightly annoyed when a well-meaning visitor mistakenly thought I was a citizenship candidate and conveyed her heartiest congratulations. Since I wear a head scarf, I suppose it's understandable that she assumed I was a newcomer.

Before the ceremony started, another guest made her way over to me to ask about — yes, you guessed it — my pathway to citizenship.

While reporting, I realized that I shared many commonalities with the people that I interviewed, from seeking better education and employment opportunities in the U.S. to adjusting my name to fit Western nomenclature. I know what it's like to make a decision to start afresh — with little support from family — and the feeling of anxiety when President Donald Trump's travel ban was first imposed.

The year 2017 has been a roller-coaster ride for anyone who has an interest in immigration. It was particularly difficult to keep up with the changes — and challenges — within the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.

I kept abreast of the developments by attending the information sessions organized by Vermont Legal Aid. At times, emotions ran high at the gatherings as attendees expressed their frustration, confusion, despair and anger. Even naturalized U.S. citizens felt threatened by the news from Washington, D.C.

Despite those awkward moments, I'm glad I attended the citizenship ceremony. Amid the policy drama at the federal level, there are many New Americans who are still committed to making this country their own.

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