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Joining The Chaos: What It's Like To Be A New Citizen Right Now

Two women stand next to each other with their hands on their hips in front of a house door with a welcome sign on their left.
Kassidy Arena
/
IPR
Karla Rangel and her sister Adela Adeniyi-Williams pose for a picture in front of Rangel's home Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Adeniyi-Williams only lives about 15 minutes away from her sister.

The year 2020 has been notable for several reasons. There’s a pandemic, a racial justice movement and it’s an election year. And for a central Iowa woman, it was her first Independence Day as a citizen.

Karla Rangel celebrated her first 4th of July as a naturalized citizen with her family in Grimes. They watched fireworks, lit sparklers and spent time enjoying the warm weather.

“I'm an immigrant and now it feels different just because I feel like I'm a part of it now I'm definitely fully part of this country," Rangel said.

But this celebration was different.

For her first Independence Day as a citizen, Rangel had to stay 6 feet apart from others. She saw posts on social media about social injustice, virus-deaths and protests. She is a new U.S. citizen during a time of unrest and uncertainty.

“You come into this country, you come to become a citizen, you want to be a part of this. And then all of these things happen," she said as she shook her head.

Rangel has long, dark hair like her sister Adela Adeniyi-Williams. They are from Mexico and are the only ones in their family to be U.S. citizens. Rangel said she left Mexico 20 years ago for the opportunities the United States offered. She is now a finance manager and owns a baking company with her sister.

But, Rangel said immigrants must work twice as hard to prove themselves in a new country. Especially in, as the sisters call the United States, the “land of the dreams.” Rangel now lives in a neat home in Des Moines' Beaverdale neighborhood with a large, landscaped backyard. She lives there with her husband, two sons and her dog, Camelia.

With the current administration, Rangel said it was even harder to go through the naturalization process. She said it was a nerve-wracking experience filled with studying and interviewing. At the very end of the ceremony, Rangel said her experience was much different than her sister’s. Her sister became a U.S. citizen during the Obama administration. When it was her turn to take the oath last November, she said she felt less welcome.

“And you get a message from the president. And I have to tell you, I didn't like it," Rangel said. "Because I knew in my heart that when he was welcoming us and saying that he was happy that we became citizens and that we were part of this country. I know he didn't mean it.”

Luckily, Rangel became a citizen right before the pandemic hit Iowa hard. Her naturalization ceremony was in person. She said she feels bad for the people who had drive-thru ceremonies the government is using during the pandemic.

Her sister Adeniyi-Williams said she has seen people on social media speak out more about their views on immigration. And it hasn’t all been positive.

“I'm over here like, you don't know the process. You don't know what it takes to to become a citizen to be, you know, to be a permanent resident. You don't know what it is for people to have to like, flee their countries because of what’s going on over there," Adeniyi-Williams said.

Leo Landis, the state curator for the state historical society of Iowa, said Mexican immigrants initially came to Iowa for job opportunities, just like Rangel did.

According to Landis, throughout history, going back to the 1800s, Mexican immigrants have faced adversity. And they still do today despite their efforts and desire to better the United States.

“Government entities knew that Mexican immigrants were different, but knew they weren’t Black. So it was trying to define how do you fit this new group of peoples into mainstream culture?" Landis said. "And it was a struggle and it was one that, I would argue, we’re still trying to address today with some of the experiences that Black and brown people have in our state and in our nation.”

According to the American Immigration Council, most immigrants in Iowa are originally from Mexico. Rangel and her sister are proud to be among them. Rangel said her next big step as a U.S. citizen is to vote.

“I'm like, Oh my gosh, like, I can't wait because it is my first time that I'm gonna be voting. This is a huge deal for me," she said after a long pause.

Rangel and her sister Adeniyi-Williams agreed it is even more important to fulfill this citizen’s duty during tumultuous times.