Seventeen years after becoming a citizen of the United States, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal became the first Indian-American woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives. In an op-ed in The New York Times entitled, “The Country I love” published celebrating the American Independence Day on July 4, Jayapal recounts her experience after she landed on these shores at the age of 16.
"I spent more than a dozen years on an alphabet soup of visas — F1, H1B and more — before I finally got my green card through marriage to an American," Jayapal recalled.
"As I took my oath, I realised how lucky I was. I knew that my future had opened up, and that citizenship would offer me the chance to seek opportunity and to take part in our democracy," she has written.
“I became determined to get my citizenship as soon as I was eligible so that I would never again face the prospect of being separated from my son, who was a United States citizen by virtue of being the child of a United States citizen father,” Jayapal recounted. It took her another three years to become a citizen after that. She did not ever want to be in a situation where she could not be with her son, she said.
After detailing the journey of becoming an American, Jayapal wrote that she realised she wanted to stand up for other immigrants.
Extremely moved by the citizenship ceremony with hundreds of others from around the world, the sounds of many languages, grandparents, parents, holding small American flags, and the solemn ceremony, brought her to tears.
“Tears welled up and rolled down my cheeks as I took in the mixed emotions of renouncing any allegiance to my birth country of India where I had been a citizen for 35 years and embracing my new country,” Jayapal recalled.
An ardent civil rights activist, Jayapal founded advocacy organisations that worked to protect immigrant and women’s rights over the years. That led to her being elected the first South Asian to the Washington State Legislature and the only woman of colour in the Washington State Senate, and then being elected in 2016 to the United States Congress.