By LSSNCA guest blogger, Bethany Horvat*
“From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me”
One of the most fascinating things about living in America is the diversity that surrounds us. If we were to put our phones aside and spark up a conversation with our neighbor, it is guaranteed that a rich history lies behind their olive complexion, blue eyes, or tight black curls. In preparation for the American Flag Day commemoration, I had the privilege of chatting with Lamya Salman about her path to citizenship, and what the flag represents to her.
Lamya was born in Iraq but lived most of her life in Jordan before immigrating to America in 2013. Lamya described a very tumultuous life in Jordan. Not only was she illegally living there, but she also had a very chaotic domestic life. She and her then-husband applied with the United Nations (U.N.) to be refugees in any country that would take them. Given the violent nature of her domestic situation, Lamya got divorced, and her four children were assigned to her ex-husband’s case before the U.N. Lamya had to go through all the necessary steps to be reunited with her children, requesting that they be moved to her case. After six months of this terrifying and emotional ordeal, her request was granted. She was reunited with her children, and the United States of America had approved her application to begin the process of immigrating.
Lamya then waited in eager anticipation as the U.S. performed the necessary vetting. After some time, she was given a travel date only five days in advance. At the time, she had a very sick child, but Lamya knew that to postpone the date would mean waiting much longer for a new one. She therefore sold her belongings and moved to America five days later. Five years later, Lamya is a Senior Job Developer with our Hyattsville, Maryland refugee resettlement office.
In September of 2019, Lamya boarded a train to attend her citizenship interview, devouring her study material as she rode: “I cannot tell you how much I was excited – this is my day!”
Lamya officially became an American citizen on February 13, 2020: “It means a lot for me to be a citizen. I found it very emotional. I feel it is a privilege. The most exciting part is going to be to vote. Joining one of the world’s greatest country of all times, I feel like this country is my country – honestly. I feel I want to serve this country as much as I can. This is my country. I tell my kids my date of birth is February 13, 2020. I am a new baby now.” At her ceremony, Lamya was given an American flag and read her rights as a citizen. First, she kissed the flag, and as they read her what it means to be a part of this country, she couldn’t hold back her tears.
For Lamya, the flag is a symbol of pride and belonging. She feels so grateful to be an American and seeks to do everything she can to be a stellar citizen. She hopes to write a book one day about her experiences to help natural-born citizens better understand the benefits of welcoming new citizens who understand and appreciate the privilege of belonging here – I’m earnestly looking forward to reading it.
I must confess that as Flag Day approached, I struggled to summon my patriotic spirit from exile, so ashamed I have been of my countrymen who would selfishly hoard the riches of our inherited land for themselves, demonizing immigrants as though our own grandparents were not so recently new to our shores. Though we have much work to do in our fair homeland, my conversation with Lamya served to re-ignite my love for my country. . . or as I should rightfully rephrase: our country.
*Bethany Horvat is a paralegal for a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and a 2017 graduate of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA.