That's my flag up there, as of June 15, 2012. That's the day I stood in a government building in New York City filled with people from basically every corner of the world, proudly swearing my allegiance to the United States of America as a brand-new citizen.
But the stars and stripes is not my only flag. I was born and grew up in Lima, Peru. I came to the US to attend college with a student visa and a scholarship when I was 17 and never left. After falling in love with this country (and an American guy), I got to stay, legally, without any issues. I know it's not that easy for everyone, that people fight hard to stay. As a recent immigrant, I know the idea of coming to the US in search of the American dream is not just an idea, it's reality. Even though I think this country, just like my birth one, has its flaws, I deeply love it and know many of the opportunities I've gotten in life could only have been given to me here.
Anyone who knows that I was born in Peru — that's everyone I know, because I volunteer this information without skipping a beat — asks me at some point if I ever think of "going back home." My answer: this is home. I've spent almost half of my life in New York, and as much as I miss my family and friends and speaking Spanish every day, I grew into an adult here, and I don't really know how to live in Peru anymore. The bottom line is I was a kid when I left, and now I'm a totally different person with goals and attitudes that were shaped by living in the US.
For me, becoming a resident was a given. My husband is American and our lives were here, so there was no question about staying. Aside from the process being nerve-racking, it was fairly easy for me to get a green card. I was lucky, and I know that. There were tons of forms and a huge file of evidence to show the relationship with my husband and our marriage were legitimate, but that was really it. The green card came in the mail three months after our immigration interview, and I held on to it for three years. The day that I was allowed to file for my citizenship — after three years if you get your green card through marriage; five if you did for other reasons — I did.
Having spent my young-adult years here, acquiring a New York accent, celebrating Fourth of July, and paying taxes, I decided that I wanted to be an official citizen. I would have been allowed to live in the US forever with a green card and as a legal resident, but I felt American as much as I felt Peruvian. For me, having a naturalization certificate said I chose to be part of this country as much as I chose to be part of Peru.
I want to be clear: I love Peru. I didn't leave the country because I didn't want to be there, but because the US was giving me a chance that I couldn't pass up. I am proud to represent Peruvians in the US. When I accomplish something, I want people to know that I'm both Peruvian and American, not one in spite of the other. Both countries made me who I am, not just one of them.
You're entitled to think otherwise, but in my mind, I'm the definition of what it is to be an American. I'm an immigrant with a complicated background and a wish to honor what this country gave me by being a standout citizen and fighting to make this an even greater place than it already is. My American passport doesn't make me any less Peruvian, and my Peruvian passport doesn't make me any less American. I'm both and unique, and that's what this country is all about.