The story of becoming an American…at the library

Congratulations to more than 120 people from more than 50 countries who became new American citizens at the Main Library Friday. The naturalization ceremony was presented by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the library’s Center for Adult Learning. Library Director Barbara Gubbin delivered the welcome address and Betzy Santiago, special assistant to the Mayor and International Officer for the City of Jacksonville, was the keynote speaker.

Library employees Mitesh Sangani and Evelyn Rockwood were among those who became American citizens on Sept. 26.  As the library is the perfect place for stories, we thought we’d share theirs.

Mitesh Sangani:

sanganiAs a 10-year-old boy, Mitesh Sangani moved with his family from East London to North London and buried himself in a textbook, as he tried to adjust to being the new kid at school. Little did he know that reading that particular textbook would plant a seed that would grow into a life-long dream of becoming an American citizen.

“It was about U.S. history and George Washington,” he said. “For some reason, reading that book made me feel a connection with the United States and I wanted to visit.”

Now, some 30 years later, Sangani experienced what he calls the “end of a tremendous journey” when he and his wife, Bhagwati, (pictured with Mitesh in photo above) joined more than 120 others in becoming American citizens at the Jacksonville Public Library’s Main Library. Sangani was honored to lead the Pledge of the Allegiance.

“It’s a blessing to be here,” Sangani said. “There is no better place than the United States for quality of life. We are living the American dream and couldn’t be happier.”

Sangani can recall other situations and events that helped nourish his boyish infatuation with the United States. In 1983 his family visited relatives in Toronto and Detroit, Michigan, and Sangani said he made up his mind then to come back to the U.S. He also remembers watching the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles, California, and being impressed with the unity and pride of the American athletes. He wished he could be a part of that patriotic experience. At that time in the United Kingdom, there was a racial divide, according to Sangani; many residents of the British colonies had been granted passports as British subjects to emigrate to the U.K., generating a great deal of racial prejudice.

“It’s not like that now, “Sangani said, “but in 1984 it was a different atmosphere than today.”

Later that year, after his father invested in a business in South Carolina, Sangani got his chance to live in the U.S. and attend school. He returned to the U.K. in 1999 and tried for years to get a visa to move back.

“I applied for years for a Diversity Visa—nicknamed the “lottery” by those applying—but because Britain is overrepresented in the United States and I was born in London, I was denied,” Sangani said. It wasn’t until after he married that his wife qualified from her birthplace of East Africa. In the spring of 2003, the two were granted visas.

The couple visited a friend in Jacksonville, decided to reside in Northeast Florida and began looking for jobs. When they both found work, they filed the required documents, received Permanent Resident Cards (then called Green Cards) and set out to wait the five years required before they could apply for citizenship. Then there were more applications, fingerprints, fees to pay, forms to file, and an interview to answer questions, mostly historical questions, according to Sangani.

“I got all 10 right,” Sangani said, admitting his interest in U.S. history from a young age finally came in handy.

 Evelyn Rockwood:

IMG_3000I am from the Philippines. I had never dreamed of becoming an American citizen because I never really thought I’d leave my country—then I met my husband. We chatted online for three years and got married a week after he arrived in the Philippines. It took another year for him to get my visa approved and finally I arrived in Jacksonville on January 26, 2010. I became a volunteer at Regency in April 2013, became a shelver in July of that year and was hired as a clerk full-time last October.

My husband and mother-in-law were there when I took my naturalization oath. I think that Jacksonville is lucky to have such a great public library. I can remember back home when our mayor was just trying to establish a community college and still planning on having a public library. I hope my fellow citizens realize how lucky they are.

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