Newly Minted Young Americans Reflect On What It Means to Be a Citizen

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Mateo Family

On a recent day in lower Manhattan, 119 children and teenagers got their citizenship certificates. They hailed from over 30 countries, including Albania, Ecuador, Pakistan, and the U.K.

After taking the oath of allegiance, Yeily Mateo said she had been looking forward to this for a long time.

“It makes me feel happy, and I always waited for this moment to happen,” the 10-year-old said, waving an American flag and flashing a big smile.

For many immigrants in the United States a path to a green card is long and often arduous. It’s usually followed by a five-year wait for citizenship. But children like Yeily, who are younger than 18 when their parents become naturalized citizens, automatically get citizenship.

She and her brother, 16-year-old Michael, who also got his certificate, came from the Dominican Republic seven years ago. Explaining what this moment meant for him, he seemed to aim for what he thought was the right thing to say.

“It means a lot to me because I know I’m a part of this country now,” he said. “I can go into the Army.”

But when asked if he really wanted to join the Army, he said he actually had a different career in mind.

“I want to be a singer,” Michael said.

A rapper, to be precise. Beaming with pride at Michael and Yeily was their Dad, Julio, 43. He came to the U.S with his brother Robert whose two sons also got their certificates. Julio said the whole family was ecstatic.

“Very happy, excited,” he said, describing his feelings. “My children are citizens. I’m a part of this country. That means they’re going to have better opportunities here.”

Last year over 50,000 children got their citizenship certificates. They’re often accompanied by parents like Petal Taylor, 42, who seem to relish the moment more than their offspring. Taylor, a school crossing guard in Brooklyn, watched as her two daughters, sporting pink jackets, got their certificates.

Atiyyah, 10, was happy with hers, but Zahera, 11, had some reservations. She didn’t exactly like her photo.

“Oh wow,” Taylor said. “I don’t think they understand the extent of being a U.S. citizen as of yet because they are still young.

Taylor came to the U.S. with her daughters from Trinidad seven years ago. For her America is still the country where anything is possible. That’s the message she says she tries to instill in her daughters every day.

“Whatever dream you have, whatever value you want, you can work for it,” Taylor said. “The only limit is what you set is for yourself. So, that’s what I want for them: to know that there’s no limit.”