Linda Nulisch credits her 12-year career as a dual language teacher at Wedgeworth Elementary to the sacrifices made by her mother. Neither would be a citizen of the United States without those efforts.
At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Nulisch stood beside her mother, Rocio Norman, as she translated the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.
As Norman surrendered loyalty to her home country of Mexico, she reflected on the decades of events that led up to naturalization.
Norman lived in San Juan, Teotihuacan and worked as an assistant for a petroleum company, Pemex, for 12 years. She explained the company became corrupt after the 1986 presidential election and she was removed from her job. Finding work as a professional grew impossible in Mexico.
“Because of how things had happened at her job, she couldn’t even request the letters of recommendation to get another job,” Nulisch translated for her mother. “It was very hard due to the corruption in the government. And especially for a female since it was male-dominated.”
Norman and her first husband, who also worked at Pemex, had already planned a three-month vacation to Texas so that she could birth Nuslisch as a U.S. citizen. Since they worked with a company that dealt with international business, the two were issued passports and Visas, which made it easy to travel.
“This was to give me a better future,” Nuslisch explained.
With that same dream in mind, the family returned to Mexico and Nulisch was enrolled in private school to learn English.
Unfortunately, her father later left the family, and Nulisch became the sole strength for Norman. After the mother was without work, she began to quickly blow through savings.
The move to America seemed to be the only opportunity for a stable life.
In 1988, Norman left her four-year-old daughter with family while she visited her brother in east Dallas to figure out where she would work and find a place to live. This decision still affects Norman to this day.
“This is something I really want for people to understand, that it doesn’t matter what religion, or what beliefs you have, or where you come from, but number one it’s not like she wanted to come here,” Nulisch translated. “Number two, it wasn’t an adventure or to see what life was like in the United States.”
Norman summarized the main reason she moved to America was that the Mexican government laws did not protect its citizens. She then pointed her finger out in front of her and explained this decision was emotionally difficult.
“Yes, it has been difficult,” Nulisch reiterated. “This country has been good to me, and I’ve been very blessed by this country. But it’s hard to see the injustice with innocent people from the people higher up above you, who are in charge of you.”
Toward the end of the interview, Norman shared she left all of her personal items and even photographs in her home country.
Norman wore a smile as she said this was the most difficult transition in her life.
“I wasn’t looking for a handout or food stamps or government help. I just wanted a job, whatever it was,” Nulisch translated.
“She said, you know it didn’t matter,” Nulisch continued as she choked up and looked back at her mother to finish interpreting. “It didn’t matter if I had to clean offices or floors or be a maid as long as my daughter was proud of me.”
Norman found her feet in Dallas with a job cleaning and an apartment for her and Nulisch, who was four. She did not have a driver’s license and quickly mastered the public transportation system. Norman admitted she did not know English and took three buses to get to work every day.
In time, her work Visa did expire. And, at around that same time, Norman had a close run-in with an immigration officer.
While Norman’s brother was out of town, she ran the apartment complex he managed. One day she reached behind some bushes to turn on a sprinkler. Norman even demonstrated how much of a struggle it was and that she probably looked suspicious.
“If immigration did happen to stop her, she understood they were just doing their job,” Nulisch said for her mother.
A suburban with the immigration emblem printed on the door drove past her and then parked across the street and observed. “Of course I was fearful,” Nulisch translated. Norman prayed, and eventually, the sprinkler turned on, and the officer was on his way.
Life then unexpectedly took a turn for the best.
Norman applied for a job with an interior design company. She disclosed in the interview that she was still in the country illegally at the time. She believed her honesty landed her the position. There, she met her current husband, William Norman.
William pursued her, and at first, she was not interested. She knew in the back of her mind that if she married the American, then she could obtain her residency. “But let me make myself clear, that is not the type of person I am,” Nulisch iterated for her mother.
William was impressed with Norman’s hard work and continued to pursue her. The two were married in December 1991.
THE NATURALIZATION PROCESS
“First of all, my priority is here,” Nulisch translated. “My family is here. Secondly, it was because of what you hear on the news about the new president. Again, you become afraid.”
The experiences in Mexico with the power that changed her life, she decided it was time to dedicate herself to America on paper and apply for naturalization.
To be eligible for naturalization, the applicant must be 18 years old, must be a lawful permanent resident for at least five years, be able to read, write, speak and understand English. Other requirements include proof of outstanding moral character for five years before filing for naturalization and a few resident elements.
Since Norman was 56, she was exempt from the English-language requirement. This is also known as the “55/15” exception. Even though she was older than 55, Norman had to have lived as a permanent resident in the U.S. for 15 years, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Norman began to research how to start the process. Nulisch was the first call Norman made to verify the steps she took were accurate. Through a Google search, she went on the government website, and it relayed what documents needed to be gathered to initiate the process.
She gathered a three-ring binder full of documents, paid a $600 fee and began the process in March of 2018.
Norman waited for the government to send a letter to confirm the paperwork was received and acknowledge if she was eligible to proceed. Norman received the letter the following next month.
“I know it’s different for every case, and I knew people who had applied and had not gotten their letter,” Nulisch translated.
Application time for naturalization in Dallas is 17 to 20 months, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
In 2017, a total of 986,851 petitions were filed, and 707,265 people were naturalized. In 1988, 237,753 petitions were filed, and 240,775 people were naturalized, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Information provided by the website shared that in 2015, 105,958 people from Mexico became naturalized, compared to 103,550 in 2016 and 118,559 in 2017.
When Norman received the letter, she said it was “very special.”
“In my 56 years of life I’ve known to do things right and that you have to work,” Nulisch translated.
As she took these legal steps, Norman reflected on where she came from and what she had to do to get to where she is today. But it also gave her the motivation to continue with the process. “It was a mixture of feelings," Nulisch translated. "Was it worth the suffering? Yes. Was it worth doing everything legally and correctly? Yes.”
Nulisch would come over to her mother's home and quiz her for the test. When Norman was given the study guide when she was fingerprinted, it read in English. She knew the oral examination would be in Spanish, so she had to cross-reference all of the questions. Nulisch double-checked the accuracy to make sure her mother studied the correct content.
As Norman flipped through her flashcards, she was still unaware of her test date.
It was six months until she was tested on Aug. 18. The test was a one-on-one verbal interview with an immigration officer. Nulisch was the established interpreter who would reiterate the questions to her mother, which made Norman more conformable. When Norman’s name was called to take the assessment, she was informed that her interpreter was not needed and that one would be provided. The nerves began to sink in.
The new interpreter was polite, and the first question asked was “who was the first president of the United States?” Usually, there are 10 out of the 100 questions on the study guide randomly asked, and the tester is required to have six correct. In Norman’s interview, the officer asked eight questions, and Norman passed with flying colors, and the test ended then.
“I wanted to cry. I couldn’t believe it,” Norman translated.
Norman was then sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Aug. 24 with Nulisch by her side to interpret the oath.
“It was the most special thing,” said Nulisch from her perspective.
While Norman repeated, she felt proud as an individual person who did it the right way. As part of the swearing in, Norman made an oath to give up loyalty to Mexico and promised allegiance to the United States of America. She then signed a certificate when she got home and keeps it locked away safe. She wouldn’t even bring it out for the Daily Light to see it, it was that special to her.
Nulisch explained that she wouldn’t have the life and the opportunities for her children without the decision her mother made in 1988 to come to America.
“Watching her reach that goal is amazing, and all of this is a point of reference for my students; my babies. Letting them know that I understand why their parents immigrate here and what their parents endure and having to work hard.”
Nulisch notices the sacrifices her mother made and takes advantage of what was given to her — opportunity. She recognizes that her mother made the sacrifices for her. Nulisch said she even wrote a letter of recommendation for a parent of one of her students who went through the same process.
All in all, after Norman reflected on the recent events and those that occurred decades ago, she shrugged her shoulders and explained her perspective.
“I am what I am because I took the hard road. You have to be brave to achieve what I have achieved even though there is fear even though you can’t see it. It is something that you have the power to do or not to do.”
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Ashley Ford | @ford_news | 469-517-1450