Why Immigrants Choose to Become Americans

“It means that my family will be safe and that we will have stability as a family.”

By Joy DiazOctober 14, 2016 10:04 am,

The Texas Standard explores what it means to be American as part of the NPR series “A Nation Engaged.”

I’m the first child of an American father and a Mexican mother. I was born an American – but in Mexico.

Growing up, I rarely visited my American grandparents in New York City. So, culturally, every connection I had was to Mexico.

When I moved to Texas as an adult I felt like an immigrant. America was new to me – even though I was already a citizen.

My husband, Luis Diaz, wasn’t. But that changed in 2013.

I recorded the ceremony and asked what it meant for him to be an American. He answered in Spanish.

“It represents safety – my safety, my family’s safety,” Luis told me. “My wife and children are Americans. It means that my family will be safe and that we will have stability as a family.”

When Luis started the process of becoming a citizen, deportations had reached a record high. That year alone, almost half a million people were deported. Being an American for him meant nothing could tear our family apart.

That day, along with Luis, more than 900 people took the oath of naturalization. People of all colors, all creeds, all backgrounds. A total of 95 nations were represented. The judge leading the oath was of Hispanic background. He told the audience that even though Americans come in all shapes and sizes, it was likely that at some point someone would say they didn’t “look American.”

Luis has heard that before. He’s also been told he’s not a true American because he was naturalized. His response?

“I’m more American than American-born Americans,” he says in Spanish. “Because unlike American-born Americans, I chose this country as my own.”

The latest data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says close to 9 million people in the U.S. could choose to become naturalized citizens. If they made that choice, each would have a unique perspective as to what it means for them to be an American.

For Anjanette Gautier it means having a country that aligns with her values.

What does she mean? Well in 2008, the plane carrying Mexico’s minister of the Interior crashed. It’s widely believed the crash was domestic terrorism.

“A friend of mine was in that plane and he died,” Gautier says.

She says that’s the night she realized she could no longer align herself with her native Mexico – a country hijacked by the crimes of drug cartels. But she could get behind the U.S.

“I realized the values of this country – the things that it stood for – were not just in paper,” Gautier says. “Here was a country that 100 years ago we had slavery, we had segregation, but it had been able to turn around. And so I decided that I wanted to be a part of that.”

Gautier says sometimes it’s hard to explain how one can become a “red-blooded American” without being born one.

“There’s nothing in my blood. If you take out blood, you’re going to find I’m A-positive,” she says. “But you’re not going to find my patriotism there. You’re going to find it in my way of thinking and the ideals that I believe in.”

So what do other governments think when their native sons and daughters become Americans? I’m sure opinions vary. But the Consul General of Mexico in Austin, Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, says he encourages Mexicans in the U.S. to become Americans – if they can. Gutierrez sounds like a parent giving up his children for adoption.

“Once they become U.S. citizens they have all the rights,” Gutierrez says. “If you consider that our responsibility is to protect our nationals abroad, then the ultimate type of protection is for our nationals to become U.S. citizens.”

It’s a citizenship that’s appreciated by Luis Diaz and Anjanette Gautier – though in different ways.