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The Complexity of Becoming an United States Citizen

On the 27th of March 2024 just before 12:30pm I, along with roughly 50 other immigrants, officially became a United States citizen at the immigration office in Tukwila, Washington. A reality that held complexities for me, as the United States has historically been a land of refuge for immigrant communities: a land that has paved the way for dreams to be fully realized for so many. Yet, another stark and troubling reality of America remains: a history of colonialism, white supremacy, greed, domination, the genocide of milliions of Native Americans, the enslavement and lynching of untold Black people. This is a reality that I did not fully grasp when I moved to the United States as a naive international student studying in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was in Tulsa that I learned  America’s first wall street was called Black Wall Street and was a place where Black communities had been thriving with entrepreneurial businesses in the early 1920’s. However, that thriving became short lived when 300 Black folks were murdered during racist riots that led to the bombing, burning and looting of Black businesses, homes and places of worship. 

It would be in my senior year of college, when I stepped foot at the grave site of what was once Black Wall Street, that I began to fully sit with these complexities. That I would realize how tied up my quest for Black liberation as an African in the diaspora was deeply and always connected to Black struggles for liberation here in these United States. 

While I was raised in Papua New Guinea for 17 years, unbeknownst to me as a child my immigration classification would play an intrinsic role in the course of my life, as it would create barriers for me to work freely, it would dictate how resourced I could be and it would also limit my ability to travel. I am reminded often that this classification of refugee was not bestowed to me through my consent. It was given to me because of where I was born, where my parents were from, due to my ethnicity and the circumstances of genocide, conflict, war and traumatic events that were taking place in my homeland of the Republic of Angola. 

Yet as I look back on my journey as a survivor, a Black Femme, and an Angolan Immigrant, I see that through all the scarcity I experienced I, like so many other immigrants, was also being held and carried by my ancestors, many of whom could only dream of the freedoms that we experience today. Particularly, I think of my ancestors who carried dreams in harsh times of Portuguese colonialism but died during the Angolan civil war. Those who fled on foot for 100 days at night in search of the Zambian border that would provide refuge, solace, solidarity and community for a whole host of other Angolan, Malawian and refugees from Mozambique. 

In a sense, the foundation of those who labored before our time should be honored now more than ever, as our current political climate is filled with the polarization and rise of anti-immigrant sentiments, anti-Muslim bigotry, and anti-Black narratives. The sad reality is that even those of us who consider ourselves to be progressive and pro-immigrant, are doing very little to tangibly support Black and brown refugees at home and abroad. Just look at how little resources are being moved for those in East Timor, in the Democratic Republic of Congo or those in Palestine and the list goes on. 

Many of us who hold complex immigration statuses hold those statuses because we have had to flee the land that we once called home, we have had to forgo familial  relationships that we have always known to either seek asylum in an unknown land just so that it could make a way for the others we may have had to leave behind. Often external factors caused by unauthorized occupation, greed, subjection of colonial powers, war, genocide create a fusion of life and death circumstances that leave us walking in a new trajectory of survivorship with little to no choice but to seek out risky alternatives ot seek refuge elsewhere. This is why our stance with refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented and documented immigrants should not be conditional or just based on merits. 

On this special occasion of World Refugee Day, may we examine the current complexities that are being held within the United States and challenge ourselves to be adamant about supporting immigrant communities regardless of their immigration statuses. May we uplift those who have found refuge in our cities, townships and states because there are opportunities of service, care and resources that can help change the trajectory of a person’s or family’s livelihood. Most importantly for those of us who have proximity to the makeshift refugee camp in Tukwila, WA, may we stand in solidarity with our Venezuelan, Angolan, and Congolese communities members who are asking us to extend our wells, move resources and challenge those with wealth to move towards the right side of history that openly welcomes those by the famous words of the poem that is inscribed on the statue of liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

For more information on how to directly support migrant communities in Tukwila please contact:

  1. Women’s Institute for Solidarity and Empowerment (WISE) | contactwise2021@gmail.com
  2. Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network | https://waisn.org/ | info@waisn.org
  3. International Migrants Alliance | jessrojas2@gmail.com 

Or better yet if you would like our city of Seattle to take actionable steps to support immigrant communities with housing, resources for the children and families please reach out directly to Mayor Bruce Herold’s office 206-684-4000.

Thank you for your support and happy World Refugee Day!

Valeriana C.B. Estes, SJF Executive Director