I moved to the United States with my mother and siblings when I was six years old from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Both of my parents are originally from Lebanon but declared refugee status in Brazil during the Lebanese Civil War 1975-1990.
Many people who I interact with on a daily basis aren't aware that I'm from a different country. My American accent is strong after living here for almost 20 years. Growing up, this fact was usually brought to light around election time. Everyone would be off to the ballots and I would use that time to run errands.
I received my U.S citizenship during my junior year at Fordham University. It was the strangest feeling. My mother had tears in her eyes during the naturalization ceremony. I remember passing the U.S. citizenship test consisting of 10 questions and a simple requirement of writing one English sentence. I think the sentence was: "I have a father and two brothers."
The ceremony didn't register. To me it felt like I was getting a certificate for simply being alive. I was already an American before I legally became one.
My mother worked three jobs every day to be able to afford our lawyer's $250 per hour paperwork fees. To this date, she has spent a total of $30,000 to provide us with citizenship and voting rights. Ironically, that doesn't even cover my freshman year of college tuition but it's close enough.
It's hard to express what my feelings are towards the immigration system here in this country. Many of my childhood memories consist of long drawn out appointments with immigration lawyers, court dates, waiting all afternoon in the immigration office and running around with endless copies of my birth certificate. Sometimes I had the feeling that our government was intentionally making it hard for us to live here (we were threatened deportation more than once). My best friend Sheryl and I look back at those "I'm getting deported" moments and laugh.
On the other hand, I feel so grateful to have experienced all that I went through to get my citizenship. For a long time I couldn't understand why my mother was putting all of her hard earned wages into getting our passports instead of saving up for college expenses. However I've realized that there's an obligation that most immigrants feel that they need to fulfill, an obligation that I'm proud of. It's important that we make something of ourselves. To make all of our struggles worth it in the end. This obligation is a huge source of stress for me, but it's also what drives me to move forward when times are hard.
Studio Issa is a creative communications firm that I began almost two years ago in Providence. We try to tailor our efforts and services towards innovators and thought leaders. We share blog posts on development and global interconnectivity. Currently my team and I work with small to medium sized businesses on marketing, brand development and web design. I spend a great deal of effort networking and meeting other entrepreneurs. Most of the design and tech entrepreneurs here are immigrants as well. Yes, you can say that I finally found my niche in the small entrepreneurial community of Providence, Rhode Island. I try to attend all the tech start-up initiatives and learn all I can about running a business.
The stress of making a start-up work and the uncertainty that it entails is very similar to that of being an immigrant in this country. It takes courage and strength to start from the beginning. I believe this country can and will reflect that, and that most of us that come here are driven to thrive and give back.