Waving the flag ...... baseball season coming up

This Week in Lincolnville: Citizen Chang

....an immigrant’s long road to citizenship
Posted:  Monday, March 25, 2019 - 12:45pm
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We met our future daughter-in-law at the Portland bus station. It was 2007, and after living and working in Taiwan for seven years our youngest son was coming home for good. And by the way, bringing home a girl – a young woman. We were nervous as all parents are when their offspring brings someone home, someone who is obviously very important to said offspring.

In a flurry of introductions, loading suitcases into the car and settling in for the long ride home we probably fussed over our son whom we hadn’t seen in many months, while trying to be welcoming to his companion. She’s so tiny, I thought from the front seat, turning around awkwardly from time to time to make small talk: “how was the trip?”, “you must be tired”, “are you warm enough?” Wally got to concentrate on his driving leaving these lame amenities to me. She barely spoke, answering in a voice I could hardly hear. How good was her English I wondered. How will I ever get to know this shy, scared girl?

CALENDAR 

MONDAY, MAR. 25
Selectmen meet, 6 p.m., Town Office


TUESDAY, MAR. 26

Knitting and Needlework Group, 4-6 p.m., Library

Budget Committee, 6 p.m., Town Office

Lakes and Ponds Committee, 7 p.m., Town Office


WEDNESDAY, MAR. 27

Planning Board, 7 p.m., Town Office


THURSDAY, MAR. 28

Soup Café, Noon-1 p.m., Community Building, 18 Searsmont Road


FRIDAY, Mar. 29

Shrek the Musical, 7 p.m., Walsh Common, LCS


SATURDAY, Mar. 30

Shrek the Musical, 7 p.m., Walsh Common, LCS


EVERY WEEK

AA meetings, Tuesdays & Fridays at 12:15 p.m., Wednesdays & Sundays at 6 p.m., United Christian Church

Lincolnville Community Library, open Tuesdays 4-7, Wednesdays, 2-7, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-noon. For information call 706-3896.

Soup Café, every Thursday, noon—1p.m., Community Building, Sponsored by United Christian Church. Free, though donations to the Community Building are appreciated

Schoolhouse Museum open by appointment, 789-5984.

Bayshore Baptist Church, Sunday School for all ages, 9:30 a.m., Worship Service at 11 a.m., Atlantic Highway

United Christian Church, Worship Service 9:30 a.m., Children’s Church during service, 18 Searsmont Road


COMING UP

April 27: Writer’s Workshop

 

The next months are lost somewhere in my memory. Like our other two sons and their wives-to-be, Andy and Hanji moved into the then-vacant back bedroom. The boomerang generation had been playing out in our house over some 10 or more years as each son graduated from college, found work, maybe floundered around a bit, came home, got their feet under them again and set out once more.

For one son that back bedroom (the room that today has been transformed into a nice, modern kitchen for the middle son’s family) was, for some seven years, the summer home where he and his girlfriend hung out and raked blueberries for extra cash before heading back to the overseas school where they worked.

Now it would be Hanji’s new home on this, her first trip to the states. She stayed a few months that time, while Andy figured out how to survive as an adult in the Midcoast; i.e. find work. He continued painting houses and mowing lawns on Islesboro, the period of his life that the two of them would one day turn into Temp Tales, the popular YouTube cartoon series.

Before long he’d found his path forward when he ran for state legislator and won. Meanwhile, Hanji, who was in this country on a Visitor Visa, was legally barred from working, though her experience at the time made her well-qualified for any number of jobs that summer.

So instead she settled into our household, spending long hours with Wally in our shop, talking while he wove rag rugs. They grew close in those months, a relationship they both cherished, as she spoke of her childhood, of the loss of her own father, of her dream of going to art school, and much more.

Though Hanji’s mother is Korean, her father was Taiwanese, and the family lived in Taipei.

Wally was stationed in Korea in 1957 at the age of 17, a formative experience for a young man and one he often told us about. When we eventually met Sammai, Hanji’s mother, they realized she was 5 years old and living near Seoul when he was there in the same area, when Korea was a desperately poor country trying to recover from war with the North. They pored over his snapshots together, pictures of roofs made of pounded tin cans, of strings of red peppers drying in the sun. of dirt roads and so much more, one of those moments when our enormous world seems small as a neighborhood.

Her name – Hanji – is her mother’s nickname for her: “Korean chick”. It was several years before we saw, on some official paper or other, her full name – Chen Hua Chang. By that time, she and Andy were living in Portland while she was a student at MECA – the Maine College of Art – and walking down Congress Street with her it wasn’t unusual for a passerby to greet her with a “Hey Hanji.” Those initial worries of mine were long forgotten by that time as we watched this increasingly confident woman make a place – and a name – for herself in her new world.

Not long after that first visit Hanji had gone back home for a time, and then returned, now with a Fiancée Visa.

Though they told us that they hadn’t really intended to marry, this kind of visa was the one feasible way they saw that she could immigrate. Marry or not, these two were going to be together. One provision of this visa is that the wedding must take place within 90 days of entering the country. The immigration official who interviewed her warned that it would be difficult to put together a wedding in such short time, that she had no idea what was involved in a U.S.-style wedding!

They did marry on time, including later a backyard summer party that featured Sammai’s delicious Korean and Taiwanese dishes and a wedding dress made by a friend. Now that she was a bona fide legal immigrant complete with green card, her life in Maine could really begin.

She began submitting her paintings to art galleries around the state, putting together a resume for eventual acceptance at MECA. During their years in Portland Hanji worked in various restaurants while Andy, after four years as a legislator, went to work for the Free Press in Rockland.

While occasionally she mentioned becoming a citizen it wasn’t until after the birth of their baby last March (on St. Patrick’s Day, fitting for an O’Chang child) and then October’s Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation that she decided it was time to claim her own right to vote.

She filled out the papers, paid the fees and last week at a Portland ceremony, was sworn in, with 34 other candidates, as a U.S. citizen.

We’ve been made hyper-aware of the immigration issue lately, and of which we probably have varying degrees of understanding. One thing I didn’t know is how much it costs the applicant/immigrant, start to finish. Here’s a rough breakdown of what it cost our daughter-in-law:

Fiancée Visa: $2,000 plus another $300 or so for required vaccinations.

Travel back to country of origin to get the above visa as the applicant must re-enter U.S. from there. Airfare to and from Taiwan is about $1,000.

Green Card application which must be renewed every 10 years: $120

Naturalization application: $800. This fee includes the civics test every prospective citizen must pass; 97 percent of them do. When the same test is administered to native-born Americans, only a third pass.

Many people hire an immigration lawyer to help them navigate the seemingly endless paperwork. Hanji relied on an online group of Taiwanese women who were also seeking a Fiancée Visa, and who shared their experiences and knowledge of the process.

Legal immigrants must sign a waiver agreeing that they will no apply for any governmental benefits (Medicaid, food stamps, etc.) for the next 10 years. Either the immigrant must have enough money in the bank to live on or they must have a sponsor willing to support them if they need help. Because Andy couldn’t produce proof of a stable income (a state legislator cobbling together seasonal jobs didn’t add up to a reliable income), his brother agreed to be her sponsor.

Last Wednesday, along with a granddaughter, I drove to Portland to watch the naturalization ceremony that would grant U.S. citizenship to my daughter-in-law. It was held at Amana Rowe Elementary School, with 35 candidates from a couple of dozen countries. One of the speakers, the Portland School Superintendent, told the story of his own naturalization as a child immigrant from Cuba.

It’s a moving ceremony with music and videos and people from all those different countries. Near the end some 15 children, all recently naturalized themselves, came up to the stage and one by one said “Welcome” in their original language.

In a sentence or two they described their first impressions of Maine: “The first time I saw snow I thought it was rice falling” said a little boy from Vietnam. “I’d never had fast food,” said another, “in Sudan we grew everything we ate.” Then each in turn said to the 35 new citizens, “We’re so glad you’re here.”


Town

Did you get the Wireless Emergency Alert message on your cellphone last week? Dave Kinney asks that we all respond to their survey here whether we got the message or not, as this information is important to the system.


School

Lincolnville Central School Pre-Registration for Kindergarten is now open for children who will be five years old on or before October 15, 2019. Call the school at 763-3366 to pre-register your child.

Coming up next week-end, March 29 and 30 is the LCS play, Shrek the Musical. Both performances start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 each, children under five free.

Softball, T-ball and Little League baseball are all starting sign-ups. Find information on all these programs here.


Library

Knitting and Needlework group meets 4-6 p.m. this Tuesday, March 25.