Originally from Chile, Berta first came to the United States, when she was just 22 years old to visit family in 1980. During this trip, Berta began learning English, applied for a student visa and later enrolled in coursework to improve her English. After completing her courses, Berta received work authorization and pursued a job at the Norwegian consulate. She would go on to become a permanent resident in 1999.
After consulting with a friend who worked as an English professor here, Berta decided to take the GED. This step opened many doors for Berta and enabled her to work at a variety of D.C. universities as a professor’s assistant. Work experience and mastering English would bring Berta to her current role as a Cooperative Play Facilitator for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
With a steady job and new possibilities, for a long time Berta was comfortable with continuing to live in the United States as a green card holder. She didn’t feel a sense of urgency to apply for citizenship, until recently, where she believes the status of immigrants seems to be jeopardized more frequently as political debates on the issue have become more volatile. Berta tells us of her decision to apply for citizenship, “The situation for immigrants in this country is changing all the time now, and I didn’t want to be in limbo. I’d renewed my residency several times already and even had someone steal my immigration papers once as well.” Her family members also played a role in convincing her to take the next step, she says, “I was the only one in my immediate family who was not a US Citizen yet. They would say to me, ‘What happens if they annul your status here? We’ll have to go visit you in Chile.’ And I told them, ‘Ok then, you’ll come visit me in Chile,’” she explains, “But they argued back, ‘No—you’ve lived here for so many years, have been involved in so many activities and work for the D.C. Government. Forcing you to go back to Chile would be wrong and unfair—it’s time to become a citizen.’” It was this combination of factors which persuaded Berta to begin the naturalization process with the New American Workforce in 2018.
Berta received encouragement from people outside of her family as well. “Everyone at my work at the Department of Parks and Recreation was so excited for me. They were happy to hear that the process was going smoothly, because they said they did not want to lose me! When I needed a day off to go to my naturalization oath ceremony, they were very accommodating as well.” Berta was extremely grateful for this outpouring of support.
On March 17, 2020, Berta took the oath to officially become a U.S. Citizen with her daughter by her side. She says the main thing she looks forward to now is voting. “As a resident, you’re visible, but you don’t really have the right to express your opinion. I can do that now through my vote—say what I like and what I don’t like, what I tolerate and don’t tolerate.”
Berta encourages other green card holders to naturalize as well, but she notes that a balance between one’s native and adopted culture is crucial. “My children were taught three languages,” she says, “because language is an important element in understanding another’s culture, history—to be able to understand them better as a person. I work with children and they are all so eager to learn, always asking me, ‘Señora, can you teach me some Spanish?’ It’s crucial to expose our kids to these things, because this is the basis of teaching them a respect for all people.”
The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Melissa Hernandez and Alexandra Pejas, Integration Programs interns, for capturing this story.