MIAMI COUNTY — Nearly 15 years ago, Aldana Gale was only 10-years-old when her parents made the decision to leave their native Argentina behind to board a plane to the United State of America for the land of opportunity and a chance at a better life.
Looking back on her own personal history, Aldana remembers that she only knew one phrase of English when she came to America.
“The only thing I knew how to say in English was ‘Coke, no ice,‘“said Aldana, laughing. “I learned it so I knew how to say it on the plane.”
Aldana, now a 25-year-old mother of two, took the oath of allegiance to the United States after years of green card applications, interviews and passing the U.S. Citizenship exam on May 17.
“It was very emotional,” she said of pledging her allegiance to America. “I felt like, almost like, I can’t even describe it. Not that I had been oppressed by any means, I just felt free. I am an American now.
I am an American now and I have all these rights and these freedoms like everyone else. So that is what I felt after we finished saying the oath. I just felt freedom.”
Aldana was named a U.S. citizen along 49 others who took the oath along with her.
“Even if you have a green card, if they don’t care to renew it … you could leave,” Aldana said. “I just felt validated. All this work I put in to loving and learning this culture has paid off.”
Aldana said she is looking forward to one U.S. citizen right — the right to vote.
“I want to vote so badly,” she said with a laugh. “When we turned 18, all my friends were voting. When all my friends were voting and even in the last presidential election when my husband got to vote, I just thought ‘I really want to do that!’
So one of the first things she and her family did after her U.S. citizenship ceremony was registered to vote.
“I filled out the voter registration and I sent it in,” she said.
Aldana was born and raised in Argentina until the age of 10 when her father, mother and sister moved to Provo, Utah, after her father lost his stable job in the South American country.
The Gonzalez family packed only clothes and maybe a small toy and left their homeland for a chance at a better life, a more stable economy and more opportunities for herself and younger sister.
“He heard there were good opportunities in America,” Aldana said of the family’s decision to leave Argentina. “They had heard people were moving there to get jobs, but we didn’t know anybody when when got to Utah. No family, in fact, they are all still (in Argentina).”
No one in her family has returned to Mendoza, Argentina to visit family, although technology has helped bring the world a little closer with the help of Skype.
Aldana said the area from which they left has experience a high crime rate and unsteady jobs.
“My family down there always tells us how lucky we were to have come to America,” she said. “I do feel blessed.”
ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
The family lived in a small two-bedroom apartment as her father worked and she and her sister went to school in Utah. Her father learned English in Argentina in high school and college classes, although it was the British style of English. Her mother never learned English, but pushed her daughters to immerse themselves in the language and the culture immediately when they arrived.
Aldana recalls very little positive memories of her first few months as an elementary school student in a new place with a new language to learn.
In fact, Aldana said she and her sister (a kindergarten student when they arrived) cried and begged for her parents to let them stay home from school.
“I didn’t have any friends in the first little while,” Aldana said. “My sister and I were in ESL (English as a second language) most of the day and it was hard at first. But, there were some kids who did speak Spanish so they let them sit with us so they could translate for us.”
Most of the anxiety and frustration of those initial months of school came from watching other students do what the teacher had asked, while Aldana was unable to understand what was expected of them.
“You are sitting there trying to wait and figure it out,” Aldana said. “So we’d cry after school every day — ‘Mom, please don’t make us go to school!’ Of course, I was 10 and I’m glad she made us go to school. We learned English within the first three to four months.”
After their English improved, Aldana said she made friends more easily and settled in to her new home in America.
When asked if she personally experienced racial remarks or discrimination, Aldana said for the most part she did not experience discrimination other than a random, rude remark.
“Most of the kids after we started speaking English and playing with them, they almost didn’t see the difference,” Aldana said. “To this day, I still have friends I made in high school that don’t see me any different.”
Aldana also said she completed several college credits after high school graduation. Yet, due to her not being a U.S. citizen at the time, she was considered an “out-of-state” resident and had to pay more tuition fees. She completed several courses before it became too expensive and put her college education on hold.
“When I couldn’t pay anymore, I got a work permit and then my green card in the mail,” Aldana said.
THE ROAD TO U.S. CITIZENSHIP
Aldana said she began thinking about the process of becoming a U.S. citizen when she was a teenager in high school.
“All my friends were getting jobs and I wanted to be just like them,” she said.
The family was issued visas when they entered the United States. Aldana received her green card when she was married to her husband Bruce.
Aldana explained the lengthy, expensive and very personal process it took to be issued a green card by U.S. Homeland Security. Aldana estimated the cost to apply for her green card was approximately $2,000.
Aldana said she had to submit a physical exam records, received vaccinations, and provided written references in regards to her marriage by family members and friends that their marriage was legitimate.
After she received her temporary two-year green card, Aldana and her husband Bruce were interviewed by U.S. Homeland Security about their relationship — often in great detail and under oath.
“They asked where we met, when we started dating, how long had we been dating, when we got married and they asked us little questions to see if we were ‘actually married,” she explained, including which side of the bed the married couple slept on.
Some immigrants have paid American citizens to be married to receive their green card, thus the detailed questions about living arrangements and personal information.
“So they had to make sure we were married for love and that we actually knew each other really well,” she said.
Aldana’s temporary green card expired after two years and then she began the process of apply for her permanent green card.
“When I did that, (Homeland Security) asked for more proof that we were still married,” Aldana said. She and her husband sent tax information, pictures of themselves spanning various lengths of time, lease agreements, bills, insurance papers, her son’s birth certificate and other documentation to prove they were still living together as a married couple.
Aldana received her 10-year green card. After she had the green card for three years, she could then apply for U.S. citizenship.
Aldana then studied for the U.S. Citizenship test, which consisted of 100 questions including history, government and civic questions.
She then had to answer 10 of the 100 questions in an oral exam and had to answer six out of the 10 questions correctly.
“I got the first six questions right so I passed,” Aldana said.
HONORING HER HERITAGE
Aldana said she still speaks Spanish with her children so they can learn the language. Aldana said she speaks in her native language approximately an hour or two a day. Her English is perfect with little trace of a Spanish accent.
“Oh, it’s still there,” she said laughing.
During the 2014 World Cup, she and her family enjoyed watching her native country Argentina play soccer against their various opponents. Her and her family even have Argentina soccer uniforms, which they wear while watching the games.
“Oh yes, we watched it. We love it,” Aldana said. “I had to teach my husband about soccer and now he enoys it.”
Aldana said she enjoys cooking traditional Argentina dishes and observes the Argentina day of independence and other holidays.
“I still cook traditional Argentina foods — my husband loves it,” she said with a laugh.
Yet, Aldana said her home with her family will always be in the U.S.A.
“I want my children to know that I love this country so much that I became a citizen of it and they should love it just as much,” she said. “Since we moved here, I love this country.”
Aldana, her husband Bruce and her two children, Ashton and Kezia, reside in Troy.
Melanie Yingst can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Troydailynews