My mom: Realizing the American Dream at 82

Flocerfida A. Lansangan at her U.S. Naturalization oath-taking

Flocerfida A. Lansangan at her U.S. Naturalization oath-taking

By Suzanne Lansangan-Sabangan

The front door of my condominium opened at 10 a.m. with my mother poking her head in and telling me she was ready. The swearing-in was to begin at 1:30 p.m.

That was not new to me as she always made sure she was one or two hours early for any appointment, including doctor’s appointments. However, today, May 1st, was a really important day for her because she would take her oath as a United States citizen at 82 years old. Neither of us realized how extraordinary this day would be until later in the afternoon.

My mom, Flocerfida A. Lansangan (‘Nene’ to her close friends, and ‘Baba’ to her five grandchildren), was hopeful that the swearing-in would last only half an hour, which would still give her time to pick up her two young grandchildren after school. After she signed her U.S. Naturalization papers, we were told that the ceremony would begin at 3 p.m. I told myself this would be a very long day, and I was thankful I brought my students’ tests to grade while waiting for the ceremony to begin. My mom was her usually-relaxed self, but I could tell that she was a little bit excited — or perhaps a little nervous. Obviously, she would not admit that to me.

A couple of hours later, around 30 new U.S. citizens were being escorted onto the front steps of the Bergen County Court House.

According to the Honorable Joseph S. Conte, who is the chairman of the Law Day Committee, May 1st was declared Law Day by President Barack Obama. This, he said, was an appropriate day to swear in new U.S. citizens.

The ceremony would turn out to be a very special one, graced by very distinguished guests of honor, including the New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who handed the U.S. Naturalization certificates to the new citizens, and former Congressman Steven R. Rothman, who delivered the keynote address. Other special guests included the New Jersey Superior Court Justices, Bergen County Clerk John S. Hogan, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, Bergen County Bar President Gerald Salerno, and other esteemed dignitaries.

The speeches that were delivered focused on realizing the dream to become an important part of this great nation which provides equality for all.

In his keynote address, Steven Rothman mentioned that being a U.S. citizen is a right and a privilege but requires a great deal of responsibility toward neighbors, community, and country. He encouraged the new citizens to take pride in becoming a U.S. citizen and create a positive impact on themselves, their families, and their communities. He also noted that new citizens bring to the United States their diverse culture, languages, religions, and most especially their ethnic food. His latter comment drew laughter from the crowd.

That moment brought back wonderful memories of the time when she first came to this country.

The author with her mom

The author with her mom

One week before my eldest daughter turned one year old, my mother arrived at JFK Airport. It was going to be a big celebration since she and my daughter share the same birthdays. After her first visit, she would travel to the U.S. every six months so she could take care of my young children while I worked as an adjunct faculty at several colleges. In the Philippines, she attended to my sister’s needs. This had been the arrangement for many years until my sister decided to join me in the United States.
My mother decided to stay too to lend us a helping hand as we raised our own children, whom she loves dearly.

She knew life in America was tough, especially for a person of her age, but she was adamant not to be a burden to us. Long, cold winters are sometimes intolerable, but she managed to adjust to the changing temperature. She learned to commute so she could be mobile and not rely on us to drive her around. She could go to the hospital on her own for her monthly, sometimes even weekly check-up. Her once-a-month trip to Atlantic City is something that she looks forward to. She has mastered the skill of commuting to her “favorite playground.” Her quiet times she spends reading English novels and watching her favorite Telenovela and Teleserye shows. My mother has not left behind her love for her native country, yet she was determined to adapt to her new home.

My thoughts were interrupted by the applause coming from the crowd as I escorted her down the steps after she received her U.S. Naturalization certificate. My heart was beaming with pride at this woman who has sacrificed everything to be with her daughters for the remainder of her life. For this, my mother truly deserved a beautiful welcoming ceremony in a country which she now calls her home.

Later, Steve Rothman came up to my mom to congratulate her on becoming a new U.S. citizen. My mom shook his hand and said with a big smile, “I am ready to vote!”

Suzanne Lansangan-Sabangan is an associate professor in the American Language Program at Bergen Community College. She is also the Faculty Advisor of Pasalubong, the Filipino-American Club at the college. Outside of school, Suzanne is the female vocalist of the NY/NJ-based OPM band, Sounds of Manila.

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