Between Two Continents: A New American’s Perspective
Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council Intern Ahmed Elessawy reflects on his experiences in the process of becoming a US Citizen.
On the left, Ahmed Elessawy with his Certificate of Naturalization at the U.S. Naturalization Ceremony at Transylvania University.
End of a Process
I can’t believe my journey with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) came to an end. I finally received a Certificate of Naturalization after years of document exchanges, immigration lawyers, interviews, unanswered inquiries, and fees. It consumed me with pride but it leaves me wondering about all the free time. For years, I lingered around the mailbox waiting for a letter or thumbed my cell phone hoping for a status update. I know for sure that receiving my citizenship doesn’t conclude the journey; it merely puts me at an equal footing to federal employment.
Oh, I forgot to mention that my dream job resides in the same department that held my dream hostage for years.
Before you categorize me a victim of Stockholm syndrome, understand my deepest desire to serve the country that made this life possible. As a legal immigrant, I didn’t qualify for federal internships or co-ops, which puts me at further disadvantage for employment. The more I read, the more I realize that my dream might be a mirage crippled by a bureaucratic process that is not entirely compatible with first generation immigrants.
Now that we established some knowledge about where I am going, let’s talk about where I came from. For the sake of space, I will skip to my first day in the United States. In early 2010, I arrived at the Port of Entry full of hopes and dreams. I had a predisposition to American culture through family and the media.
My reliance on the media to absorb the essence of the American culture and help in the process of assimilation proved inaccurate. Seinfeld and company had too much time to interact with little reflection of the hectic lifestyle of the Big Apple or even suburbia. Exposure to life through the lens of Hollywood didn’t prepare me for the reality of life in America. The outside view of American life is deceiving; it is a view of an easy life full of leisure, money, and ample jobs – a utopia of all sorts. Sadly, that utopian perception is prevalent within the queue of ‘huddled masses’ at embassy doors. I realized the value of hard work, which proved a gate to the American dream as I struggled to land my first job.
Today, I have held several positions, moved across state lines, and on the verge of graduating college. For a new immigrant, the three or five years waiting period before applying for naturalization are saturated with little victories: the first driver’s license, the first job, and the first promotion. My most notable little victories include successfully ordering food via drive-thru and acquiring my first credit card; pathetic? Maybe, but many underestimate the weight of overcoming communication, and system, barriers. After all, most immigrants land into a bubble of other seasoned immigrants who outlay a long list of life lessons.
The solace bubble is deceiving and crippling, it produces citizens incapable of growth, assimilation, or aspiration.
The list of life lessons seldom include tips on resume and credit building, or accent improvements; rather, it is a comprehensive list of safe jobs (taxi drivers, gas station attendants …i.e.), apartment tips, and the nearest ethnic grocery stores. The process of immigration is agonizing with limited value as it fails to capture the importance of a challenge.
I enjoyed the process of breaking out of the stereotypical immigrant handbook. Outside of this bubble is yet another bubble that stems from limited exposure to immigrants in combination to over exposure to zealous media. Many discounted my accomplishments to my ‘immigrant’ status with relentless questions about secret government programs that makes it possible. It is difficult to fathom a professor handing me a grade that I don’t deserve or an employer promoting me simply to satisfy a quota.
It is evident to me, through my personal experience, that exposure to individual interaction can shatter these negative stereotypical views.
Organizations, such as the Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council, play a crucial role in educating the public about the world, which is instrumental to attract international investments to the community.Granted, I don’t expect certain questions to stop soon; questions like my previous home life in a pyramid or my preferred choice of camel.It is important to note that I am forever indebted to the local community that was and still is extremely welcoming, supportive, and inspiring throughout my journey.
Ahmed Elessawy, Intern