How I Became a U.S. Citizen

I know what you’re thinking… WHAT is this Daria looking chick doing here? Where did they find her?

If you understood that joke, you need a skincare routine, a better mattress, and a life insurance policy because, yes, you’re dying!

You know those immigrants who come to the United States and just kill it? They cure diseases, they become lawyers and defend human rights. They sacrifice everything to accomplish what they want.

I’m not one of those.

Being a first-generation immigrant is tough. Your parents expect you to be a lawyer, doctor, or engineer. You’re growing up riding your bike and your mom’s behind you like, “You have opportunities I never got,” she’d say. “Don’t waste them,” she’d say.

“I’m not even in the first grade, mom!” I’d say.

But as my parents now see my lack of accomplishments today they realize they got stuck with the weird kid.

“You could’ve been great,” they’d say. “Instead, you’re doctoring up excuses, engineering a bridge to nowhere, and you better lawyer up because we’re suing you for wasting the American Dream! Being weird is something only white people can afford!”

My family came here from El Salvador to give me everything. It still took us 22 years to get our U.S. Citizenship.

Between the time when I arrived in the United States and became a citizen, Pluto got deported from the solar system, we got iPhones…. We even got Game of Thrones just to prove we love to watch white people kill each other!

It’s therapeutic.

If you were born here getting your citizenship is a legal process that is very expensive and bequeaths you the right to live in the country legally. It does not give you the right to be treated as a human being.

Just watch the news.

Speaking of the news, we’ve all seen kids in cages. Little children coming to the US border looking for better conditions. We know that they have to defend themselves in front of a judge, before some of them even have the chance to use a crayon for the first time.

I don’t know what it’s like to defend myself before I can even enter pre-school, but I did have to do it. So I’ll tell you how that happened, not just because this is an immigrants’ rights event and I should share my story… but because it’s good chisme. If you don’t speak Spanish, that means it’s good gossip.

At the age of 14, my lawyer told my parents and I that we were finally able to apply for a green card. I was told that I’ll talk to a judge, and I wouldn’t be able to take a lawyer or my parents while talking to them.

Now, I was a 90s kid with a big imagination, I had no idea I was about to do one of the most consequential things in my life. So instead of being afraid I thought, “Cool! It’ll be like an episode of Law and Order, starring ME!”

So I did what any dumb 90s kid would do in that situation. I watched every crime-fighting lawyer show on TV at the time, listened to a lot of Rage Against the Machine and Notorious B.I.G so I could have energy and enter the room like a rock star!

One day my parents drove me to a building that looked like it was once an Office Depot, but sadder. We walk into the building with my report cards, and support letters from my pastor, my principal, the tamal lady down the street.

We had to have all of our bases covered.

I enter a room with no windows and there’s an underpaid librarian sitting at a desk. She looked like she picked out her outfit from Goodwill.

She starts talking. She looks at my packet, and asks me questions.

“Why do you like America?”

“Because America has Nick Carter, and In N Out burgers….”

I keep yapping on about how Nick Carter and I are getting married after I get my green card, and how I got the lead in a my school play and beat everyone at their auditions. I just kept saying a bunch of stupid stuff.

The interview ends. I get into the car with my parents.

And as we drive, I asked the golden question…. “When do I get to see the judge?”

My parents are like, “What do you mean?”

We get to a stoplight and I’m like, “That was an underpaid librarian lady… she didn’t even have a gavel or a wig! When do I talk to, you know, the judge?”

My parents just went pale. Because all this time I expected a beautiful tribunal, a jury, a person with one of those black coat things, a wig, some chandeliers. I expected a classy immigration hearing.

And I could tell my parents knew what I was thinking so they were like… “You just talked to the judge! That was her!”

Guys… I could’ve lost out on the green card because of Nick Carter and In N Out!

What if she liked Nick? What if she preferred NSYNC? What if she was from Texas and preferred What-A-Burger?!

I could’ve lost out on my green card for a burger I can’t even buy anymore because I’m in Mississippi now!

Guess what? Our immigration system is so messed up, that the children you see in cages on the news are required to talk to judges who don’t have to tell them they’re judges!!

Our immigration system is so underfunded judges don’t even get a desk now. It’s just a plastic table someone found at a yard sale for $3.99. And the judges are so overworked they don’t even look like they shopped for their outfits at Goodwill…. They look like they grabbed those clothes from the dumpster behind it.

And that’s who children as young as three have to talk to so they can try to stay in this country after being kept in freezing cages!

I actually got my green card in the mail a month after my quinceañera, which was a week before the attacks on September 11. Those of you under a certain age… I’m talking about 2001.

I got my U.S. Citizenship, in 2011. Let me tell you what that’s like.

I still get paid 54 cents to the white man’s dollar, but I’m expected to pay for 100% of everything because the constitution says I’m equal in the eyes of the law. No one knows this better than retailers. I have to pay the same $300 for a pair of Jordans and work for an extra 6 months just to be able to afford them.

I get the added bonus of having a security guard follow me around as I look at them at the store. “This of this as premium service, we’re bodyguards,” the security guards say, “For the Jordans we think you’re going to steal!”

Just to let you know, I don’t steal Jordans.

None of my purses are big enough to pull that off!

Now I live in Mississippi, a state the prides itself in providing hospitality… to anyone who can pass a paper bag test.

It’s in the fine print. Read it!

And for someone who is an immigrant here I know where I am: in a place that works hard to let us know how much it hates all immigrants and people of color.

I believe in everyone here.

You will win because you’re in a place that has done everything possible to try to bring you down, and you’re still standing. And I further believe…. that when you get your turn to speak to the judge you won’t say stupid things the way I did… because you’re all cool and listen to Harry Styles!

I’m going to leave you with this: being a first-generation immigrant is hard. I know this, you know this. Being a first-generation immigrant that looks like Daria Morgendorffer is even harder, so thanks a lot, 90s MTV.

My name is Ingrid, that’s my time.

Ingrid Cruz is a freelance writer, independent filmmaker, and comedian. She’s trained at The Second City and currently takes classes at the Art of Acting Studio/Stella Adler.

Stand-Up set originally performed for the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity of Mississippi, April 22, 2021, Jackson, Mississippi.

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