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Proud to be an American

By Staff | Apr 14, 2008

Colette Emery holds the United States citizenship certificate that she was proud to receive in St. Paul.

fter living in Blue Earth for 30 years, Mary Colette Emery decided it might be time to actually become a citizen of this country.

So she did, and as of February 13th of this year, she is now an official U.S. citizen.

She was born in Ireland in 1938 and lived there until she was 17. Although since that time she has lived in either England or America, she has always retained her Irish citizenship.

“I had a green card (alien registration card) for the last 30 years,” she said. “I found out that it had expired so I decided I would become a citizen, finally, instead of getting another green card.”

It took two years and about a thousand dollars in order for her to become a citizen. “It was quite an effort, a lot of paper work,” she said. It involved several trips to St. Paul, for fingerprinting and background checks. It also meant a trip to Sioux Falls for a citizenship test.

Emery (who goes by her middle name of Colette) studied a lot of U.S. history for the test. One of the questions had to do with naming where the president lives, and she wasn’t sure if they meant the White House, or his home in Texas. “But I did pass it,” she said, “and also the English language test.”

She was sworn in as a citizen in a ceremony in St. Paul, at the federal courthouse. She was one of 450 people who became citizens at that ceremony. They swore under oath to obey the constitution, they pledged allegiance to the flag, and they got an official certificate of citizenship.

There was also a video taped message from President George Bush welcoming them to the U.S. and citizenship.

“It was a little different for me,” Emery said, “because I have lived here for 30 years.” Some of the new citizens had not been here very long. Emery said that many were quite emotional about it. Some, she said, were refugees and had left countries where there was war, and poverty.

“There was a girl from Poland who was very excited and very emotional,” Emery said. “And it really was exciting, my heart was pounding too.”

Emery moved to Blue Earth with her husband and three children in 1978. They had met in England where he was in the service, and they lived there for seven years before moving to Minnesota.

She remembers that it was terribly cold and snowy here, and she was not very happy. The customs were also very different and made it difficult for her to feel accepted.

Although she spoke English of course, there were many terms that were different from the American version.

“I went into the J.C. Penneys store and asked to buy some vests for my son,” she recalls. “They kept showing me suit vests.”

What she wanted were undershirts (t-shirts) which are called vests in England. “It was frustrating, and then the salesman told me I had better learn the language.”

Another item that caused concern among her neighbors was her use of “baby reins.” They are a harness and leash for walking young children. “They were very popular in England, but they caused some concern when I used them here,” she said with a smile. She remembers Dr. Drexler stopping one day and asking her if everything was okay. She assured him everything was fine.

Spelling was another problem, with her son and daughters getting words like color (colour in England) wrong on tests at school.

After a rocky start, she learned to love living in America in general, and Blue Earth in particular. Her children include Aaron who lives in California, Penny who lives in Fairmont, and Tammy who lives in Blue Earth.

How will life for Emery be different now that she is a citizen? Not much will change she said.

“The biggest thing will be that now I can vote,” she said. And she is excited about that opportunity. “This is a historic election, and I am excited about being able to vote and help decide the next president,” she said.

She declined to say who she would be voting for this fall, in her first chance to cast her ballot as a full-fledged U.S. citizen.

“I always loved that Lee Greenwood song, ‘I’m proud to be an American,’ and now it has even more meaning for me,” she said. It was played at the swearing-in ceremony when she became an American citizen, and she is indeed proud to finally be one.