What’s it like to become a US citizen?

By Cassandra J. Sproles

lola

“Becoming a citizen has allowed me to fully become the two parts of who I am. I am now fully Nigerian and fully American.”

Hanging on the door of Lola Alapo’s office at UT is a white dry-erase board with notes—written in red and blue—of congratulations from her co-workers: “Welcome to the country you’ve lived in most of your life!” “Now I have a source for all of my US history and government questions!” “You now have the vote!”

It’s the last one that is most important to Alapo and the reason why she wanted to become a citizen of the United States after living here for two-thirds of her life.

“I’ve been a US permanent resident for a long time, and I could have remained that way,” says Alapo. “The only things I couldn’t do that other Americans could do were holding a federal job and voting. I had no interest in the first. I very much wanted to do the second.”

Alapo was born in Nigeria and immigrated to New York with her family when she was 9 years old. She grew up speaking both English and Yoruba. She attended school here in the United States beginning in the fifth grade.

A love of writing, reading, and traveling compelled her to go into journalism—a profession that would allow her to do all three. Alapo graduated with a degree in print journalism from City University of New York at Brooklyn College.

After interning for a year with Newsday in New York, she moved to Knoxville to become a reporter for the News Sentinel.

During her time with the paper, Alapo wrote about everything from education to crime, including a personal story about her travels back to Nigeria to reunite with her grandmother.

“I remember wondering if she would like me,” Alapo says. “Or if she thought I was too American.”

Alapo, who came to work at UT in August 2011, began her application for US citizenship in June. The four-month process took her from one end of the state to the other. She went to Nashville for fingerprinting, Memphis for an in-person interview and written and oral tests, and finally to Chattanooga for her swearing-in ceremony.

She decided to pursue citizenship as an adult to make the process more meaningful. It was something Alapo wanted to do for herself, as opposed to her parents doing it for her when she was a minor. It was another step in growing up.

“It’s a joy to officially be a daughter of America,” Alapo says. “I’m thrilled that I’ll get to vote in my first federal election this year. I’ve always had an opinion. Now, I’ll have a voice and a vote to back it up.”

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