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My Day One: Journeys Across America on our Path to Citizenship

In honor of Immigration Heritage Month, Noemie Levy reflects on growing up as an immigrant and the journey to citizenship through exploration of our National Parks.

June marks Immigrant Heritage Month -- and people across the country are sharing their American stories. Whether you've recently embarked on your first day as an American or want to share how your ancestors came to arrive here, we want to hear from you. Add your voice to the conversation today.

I come from a long line of childhood immigrants.

My grandfather was eight when he emigrated from Argentina to Morocco. My parents both emigrated from Casablanca, Morocco to Paris, France in the 1960s, among a wave of North African Jewish immigrants that crossed the Mediterranean in pursuit of better opportunities. My brother and I joined the ranks when we immigrated to Florida in 1996.

My dad fell in love with America during graduate school in the States – he connected with the entrepreneurial spirit and the deeply engrained ideals of service and civic participation. He and my mother dreamt of raising their children in America and instilling in us these powerful ideals. That’s why, when I was seven, we immigrated to the U.S. on a H-1B Visa to begin our journey to citizenship.

Our journey was not without its challenges. We left family, friends and a cultural connection to begin anew in a mostly unfamiliar land. My mother gave up her practice as a surgeon. I remember my first day of school in America: Wearing a denim jacket and a bright pink backpack, I tried my best to look American, hoping no one would notice I didn’t speak English. It was awkward.

Even though we sometimes felt confused, we always felt welcome.

We were invited with open arms to barbeques, block parties and PTA meetings. We learned about kickball, Pop Tarts and drive-in movies, and we made them our own. We didn’t always look, sound or act “American," but we never, ever felt out of place.

We always felt American.

These qualities lie at the heart of what my parents first loved about this great country: we are an eclectic mix, but we are united.

My favorite memory of our journey to citizenship was a tradition we started soon after moving to the United States. After spending years thumbing through old guidebooks of Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and other American treasures, we yearned to meet our new country first-hand.

The Grand Canyon

So we bought a National Parks pass, and every chance we had, we took a road trip. We crawled through the stunning historical homes of the Pueblo people carved in Colorado’s Mesa Verde; we hiked and camped in Appalachia; and we gazed up in silent, breathless awe at General Sherman in a snowy Sequoia National Park. We drove up mountains, across deserts and through torrential downpours -- and we once even stopped for bison. It took us two tries to get through Texas. 

Sequoia National Park

By the time I earned my U.S. citizenship on August 10, 2004, I had been to almost every state. These experiences taught us about the eclectic mix that is America. They taught us about the almost paradoxical magic of this nation that I love so much:

As a country that spans an entire continent, we are somehow always a community.

Mount Tacoma

My ancestors crossed continents in pursuit of security and brighter futures. I have seen, tasted and heard elements of my culture through old photographs from places like Greece and Gibraltar, through my grandmother’s Moroccan cooking, and through stories told again and again during Passover Seders. I may feel a connection to my heritage, but nothing feels stronger than my identity as an American. We came as immigrants, but nothing could feel closer to our forever home.