Today I will tell you about my journey to become an American. Please, grab a box of tissue and make yourself comfortable. It’s a long sorry and you may laugh till you cry! Several people asked me about how I became an American so I decided to write my story down in order that those of you who were lucky enough to be born in America or to American parents will count your blessings.
Most of you already know that I was born in Ukraine while it was still one of the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union. When I met Mark, Ukraine had only been independent for only 5 years and everything was still pretty much Soviet. When we decided to get married we had to jump through all kinds of hoops just for me to become Mrs. Thiesen, but that is another story and would make another post on its own.
After that entire nightmare was over we finally started my visa process so I could come to the States with Mark. First of all I had to gather documents that proved that my real father was really deceased, get fingerprinted, be tested for AIDS and TB, and get these funny looking pictures where my face is turned about 450. At that time the US Embassy in Ukraine did not process immigrant visa applications and all the documents were sent to the Embassy in Poland so I had to go there in person for my interview. We had to wait for months until we finally got word that I was to appear for my interview on December 5, 1996. We had to travel on a train for 25 hours to Warsaw in order to be there. We came for my appointment hours early just to make sure I would not be late. When my name was finally called from a window an elderly gentleman “chit chatted” with me for about 30 minutes asking regular nonchalant questions, the sort of questions one would ask to be polite. Somehow through those questions he figured out that I was saying the truth and told me to come back at 4 pm to pick up my visa. Again we were the first people in the room. One by one people were called and got their visas, but no one called my name. Finally fifteen minutes before the Embassy was to close for the day my name was called and I was presented with my visa. Mark and I decided to sit down and just make sure everything was in order. As we scanned through all the information we noticed that in the box for Nationality it said “Polish.” We had to go back and knock on the already closed window and show them the mistake that was made. The lady really did not want to mess with us because it was time for her to go home but she had no choice in the matter. She told us we needed a new 450 picture that could be done across the street. By that point I just started crying. The stress of the past few months was just too much to handle and I was not even sure I wanted to go to America to begin with! We finally got the second picture that just looked terrible, and gave it back to the clerk. After about 10 more minutes my new visa was ready. We decided to just look it over to be sure and low and behold, under Marital Status they put “single.” Mark was furious and went back to the window pounding with his fist. The lady was really ticked off at us at that point and said not to worry because that type of visa is given to married people only! :-) Duh! So why put “single?”
I would lie that it was the only “glitch” on our way to my Americanization. Another one worth mentioning came about 3 years after we were married and I had to apply for my permanent green card. I’m sure most of you don’t even know that the green card is fully know as the Alien Registration Card and with my initials of ET (Era, short for Irina, Thiesen) I got a ton of laughs on that one! And, the “green card” is actually pink!!! Anyway, again we had to fill a bunch of useless forms with questions like “Have you ever knowingly been a prostitute?” What person with half a brain would say “Yes?” Then we had to get all sorts of documents proving that we had a joint checking account, credit card, and house mortgage. The process was started in the Dallas, TX, INS. That place was so full every single day that we had to leave our house at 3 am so we could have a fighting chance to get indoors. If you got there at 5, you were out of luck! One day while were waiting in line a guard came out, said something in Spanish and went back in. Since all I know in Spanish is “Holla” and Mark even less than that, we just looked at one another having no idea what just happened. In the end with the help of Senator Phil Gram I was able to get my permanent green card that stated that I was from Uzbekistan! :-)
Now I am an American and have been for years. I am so glad I don’t have to go through all that immigration junk again and mess with some really “bright” people. And I cherish my passport as my greatest accomplishment and treasure!