As Martha Garcia tells her story, she does so with a smile that reflects six years of gratitude for her U.S. citizenship.
She didn't always wear this smile, after all earning her citizenship meant 22 years of misinformation, confusion and uncertainty. On Tuesday night Garcia spoke with a point - to relay her firsthand struggle of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Nearly 50 people listened to Garcia during a panel discussion sponsored by the Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown.
She spoke candidly about a large file of documents she carried those 22 years, about applying for residency and getting a work permit while caring for her two small children. She talked about having to have a reason to become a citizen of the United States, and was grateful to point toward her family.
Perhaps the most difficult was talking about the day she learned that a misfiling of papers meant her family was illegal again. That day she vowed to go home to Mexico.
But something made her press on - having come to the country at a young age, her children had come to call the United States home.
"Sometimes the dream is a nightmare," Garcia said.
But in 2005, Garcia received her citizenship. This is the day she said she "could breathe again."
Today, Garcia is a leader in the Hispanic community. Amid her community involvement she is a realtor with the Five Stare Real Estate Group. She and her family thrive in the community of Marshalltown.
Most of us probably underestimate what it takes to become a citizen of the United States. Tuesday's discussion cleared up any misconception. The path to citizenship can take many years and many thousands of dollars to accomplish.
The Immigration Allies of Marshalltown has a mission to strengthen the community by embracing our diversity, united in the belief that what we have in common is greater than our differences.
We applaud the organization on its first in a series of talks on immigration to shed light on the arduous process of becoming a citizen. We hope that many more of you will attend future sessions not only to learn about, but appreciate the process.