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Marie's citizenship success in Florida

Marie's citizenship success in Florida

Published: March 30, 2015
Photo: AFSC / Grace Slawski

Marie’s skinny body is exaggerated from her oversized dress, but her personality is anything but frail.

While she speaks, her voice fluctuates wildly in its tone; and while she talks, her face is brightly animated. Marie has much to say, but she does not have much time.

Like Yvette, she meets with me during her short break from work at the Swap Shop in Ft. Lauderdale. As I listen to her story, the rain pours down from the sky in buckets, and makes thunderous little claps on the roof above us.

A simple life

At first, Marie lived a conventional and simple life in her hometown of Cabaret, Haiti. Cabaret is approximately located a half hour north of Port-au-Prince. She worked as a farmer and growing up, she claims that there were more thriving businesses than there are today. Her brother and her father owned a small store in the city. There was not much that Marie needed because as far as she was concerned, she lived a sustainable life.

However, life dealt Marie and her family a bad hand of cards. The Duvalier “Baby Doc” regime implemented a reign of terror during the eighties. In order to crush popular uprisings occurring throughout the country, the paramilitary harmed the lives of many Haitian civilians in the name of restoring order.

Unfortunately, Marie’s brother’s store in the city was destroyed by the paramilitary and burned to the ground. Shortly thereafter, Marie’s father passed away. Marie postulates that the cause of death resulted from all the stress that he endured. After all, his family’s future lay in ashes on top of scorched earth.  Meanwhile, her brother fled to Paris, where he spent the remainder of his days.

After all the chaos, Marie concluded that it was dangerous for her to stay in Haiti. She had no other option except to migrate to the United States.

A courageous journey

Marie’s journey to the United States required ample courage, confidence, and patience.

Marie had no direct passageway to the U.S. and her only way of travelling was through Central America. With tears in her eyes, Marie left Haiti in 1990 and embarked to Panama. She crossed through Costa Rica and eventually settled in Mexico. Once in Mexico, Marie was in limbo for two years before she crossed into the United States. She acquired paperwork to legally reside in Mexico on a temporary status until she had enough resources to enter the United States.

At this time in her life, Marie remembered feeling powerless and scared. Her restrained emotions were finally released when she saw photos of Haiti that triggered her anxiety. In the newspaper, Marie saw images of pummeled buildings and people dead in the streets. All she wanted was to find a home and the home she once loved was falling apart across the Atlantic Ocean.

Marie eventually crossed the border legally from Mexico into Texas, where she then lived for five years. During that time, Marie was fortunate enough to find a guardian angel, advisor, and a friend. He was a Cuban pastor at a church near the border and according to Marie, he was the support that she desperately needed.

The pastor found Marie a safe place to sleep, helped her find a job, and accompanied her whenever she needed to visit an immigration office. Finally, due in large part to the help from the pastor, Marie obtained residence status in the United States. Afterwards, she closed this chapter of her life and moved to Florida.

Reflecting on the obstacles she overcame

Marie stops retelling her story to glance up at me. I notice in an instant that Marie’s eyes are vivid and yet contemplative. She remarks that in retrospect, she never realized all the obstacles she overcame during her journey to the United States. Marie is amazed at how much progress she made throughout the journey.

Drops of rainwater that splash from outside tirade us, and yet Marie sits across from me with a smile on her face. “I like my story,” she quickly reflects, almost as a note to herself. She then promptly returns to telling me the rest.

Upon arriving in Florida, Marie felt strong and resilient. After travelling halfway across an entire continent, she felt like she could conquer any problem in her path.

Additionally, Marie felt an urge to become an American citizen and secure her permanent status in the United States. Marie heard about the American Friends Service Committee's citizenship program from her friends, who raved about the effectiveness of AFSC's classes run by Paul-Andre Montesir.

Sure enough, after attending Paul's classes, Marie quickly agreed with them. She claims that Paul is a nice teacher who is passionate for people of all shapes and sizes. Although many people combatted Marie with negative comments, telling her that she was incapable of passing the exam, Paul always insisted on her success.

The path to citizenship

In order to maintain her motivation, Paul told her time and time again that, “Marie! You have to pass the test! You will do it!” Marie became skilled at multi-tasking, as she would often listen to the CD-ROM with the citizenship questions on her cd player while she worked. Through persistence, Marie thanks Jesus that she passed the test and became a naturalized US citizen.

Now that Marie has her American citizenship, she feels that she has an immense sense of power and opportunity.

Marie retains a deep sense of pride for Haiti and defines herself as Haitian-American. She hopes to petition for her family that remains in Haiti to come to the United States. However, she lacks money to apply for the petitions.

According to Marie, “the Swap Shop is no good,” and she is not paid much for her services.

Marie rents a room, which is costly and often uses much of her savings. In spite of her financial shortcomings, Marie still remains optimistic about her standing in the United States. She feels empowered to vote in the upcoming elections.

Written by AFIS intern Grace Slawski