Editor's note: Luis Peon-Casanova is a faculty member in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications. He immigrated to the United States - legally -- in 1982 and became a citizen on December 7, 2007 in a ceremony at the Federal Building in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was accompanied by family and friends - many from the college. The federal courtroom was filled with other immigrants with completed citizenship paperwork; like Luis, awaiting the ceremony to make them naturalized citizens of the United States. Luis wrote a letter to his colleagues in the college following his citizenship ceremony; the letter is reprinted with his permission.
A few words of reflection and gratitude from Luis
I remember crossing the border between Texas and Mexico in 1982 in a lime green Volkswagen Beetle chasing the American Dream, which at my young age could be synthesized as smoking Marlboro cigarettes, drinking Coca-Cola, and watching Charlie's Angels and the Dallas Cowboys on TV. I did not know that one day I would realize the dream, nor did I know that the reality would be much different from what I had envisioned back then.
The years that followed my arrival were filled with grand adventures, such as graduating from the University of Texas, and grand experiences, such as landing awesome jobs and finding a great wife in Nebraska, who taught me the value of home and family.
As I grew older and wiser - and it did take me a long time - I came to realize that I have a responsibility to my community and to my fellow Mexican citizens, those who come here with very little or nothing, perhaps like your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, or maybe even yourselves. In light of the recent terrorist attacks to the US and the debate surrounding the value of immigration, I feel a responsibility to communicate my experience and the experiences of those who are struggling to realize their own American Dream. That's why after all these years I decided to become a U.S. citizen. To you I promise that I will bear such responsibility and my new citizenship with care and pride.
Today I realize that I haven't smoked Marlboros since 1989, and I don't drink pop, either. The original (and still hot) Charlie's Angels are in their 50s, and the Dallas Cowboys still capture my imagination on any given Sunday during the fall. Through thick and thin, I have always been a fan. But I'm a bigger fan of other institutions such as our college. We the people make it what it is, and you can't imagine how much I have enjoyed every minute of the past five years. I have learned so much, and I continue to be challenged to excel every day, just to keep up with you.
"I felt a connection, a sense of belonging like I had never felt before.
As we waited for what seemed like hours last Friday to start the ceremony in the Federal Building, I actually imagined we were all immigrants in a boat arriving at Ellis Island, separated only by time and circumstance. It was a strange but intriguing thought. Most of your families got here before I did, but as I looked at the faces of us, the newcomers, and you, the Americans, I saw a common bond that transcended time and space. I felt a connection, a sense of belonging like I had never felt before. I hope you did, too, for I imagine it's hard to relate to the actual journey if you are not in it.
After we, the newcomers from Africa, Asia, Europe, North, Central and South America, the Middle East and elsewhere, pledged allegiance to our new country and received our certificates of citizenship from the judge, some of us immediately registered to vote outside of the courtroom.
Bruce Thorson, who documented the event with his camera, asked me, "What were your first American thoughts?"
"Mexican food," I replied, as we headed out to join friends and family at La Mexicana restaurant. How appropriate.
I just wanted to express a heart-felt thank you for coming to my naturalization ceremony and to let you know that it meant a lot to me to see so many of your faces there. I also want to thank those who wanted to come but couldn't. To all of you, I'm humbled and honored by your presence, good intentions, and kind words.
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