The North Bend Eagle

 

Journey of 8,000 miles ends with citizenship

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 9/16/15

Gladys Starkey is excited about Constitution Day. For her it is also Citizenship Day.

She and her family will be driving to Beatrice to the Homestead National Monument of America. The United States Citizenship and Naturalization Ceremony will take place there on Sept. 17 making Gladys a United States citizen.

New citizens will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States at a 2 p.m. ceremony in the Education Center’s courtyard. Gladys, her husband Tim Starkey and daughters Marie, 5, and Olivia, 4, will be there with flags a-waving.

GladysStarkey

In 2004, Sept. 17 became known as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day because it is the date in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the United States Constitution.

It has been a long trip for Gladys, one she is excited to see culminate in the ceremony Thursday.

Gladys was born in 1985 the third of seven children to a family in Daet, Philippine Islands. And yes, her given name is Gladys.

“My father loved to read,” she said. “Most of us have western names.”

She met Nebraskan Tim Starkey when she was working at a call center in the Philippines. He called to complain about his bill and they hit it off. She could not give him any personal information, but he gave her his phone number and she called him back when she got home.

Citizenship official after ceremony

Mary Le Arneal
Published 6/23/15

“I’m officially US citizen as of today.” Gladys Starkey wrote the Eagle on Sept. 17. “Yay!”

She said the ceremony took almost 3.5 hours with 49 other immigrants participating.

“I had to surrender my green card and the letter I got from US Customs and Immigration Service, signed and answered eight questions.” Starkey said.

Other immigrants were from Iraq, South Sudan, Germany, Mexico, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Liberia, another woman from the Philippines, Britian, Cuba and the Netherlands. Starkey said some of them had been living in the U.S. for 10 years before they applied for citizenship.

The ceremony took place at the Homestead National Monument Education Center in Beatrice.

Richard Kopf, federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska presided. He addressed the immigrants noting the contributions that immigrants have made to the U.S.

“It was hot but a very solemn event,” Starkey said. “There were students and family members to witness the ceremony. Before it started, we were given a little flag and the American Patriot’s Handbook.”

Next week Starkey plans to go to the Social Security office to change her status as a citizen, apply for a U.S. passport and register to vote.

“Before we left the house this morning, I got a card from elementary (school) signed by students congratulating me,” Starkey said. “They really made this day so special.”

“He seemed nice, thoughtful,” Gladys said.

School children in the Philippines start learning English in first grade in school, so Gladys was well versed in Tim’s native language. She worked at the call center 2.5 years and they had classes to help work on their English. Plus, Gladys loves to read, so she had lots of practice and speaks with hardly any accent. There was very little lost in translation in their conversations.

They talked regularly for a year before Tim went to visit for two weeks. During those two weeks, Tim proposed and they were married June 28, 2008. Tim left and it was another nine months of phone calls before Gladys could get all her immigration papers, visa and medical clearance done and join Tim in the United States.

“It was hard,” Gladys said. “He called all the time.”

When Gladys did get here, Tim took her to a home in Morse Bluff. There they welcomed their first daughter, Marie, born July 1, 2010. They then moved to North Bend to a house on 14th Street where daughter Olivia joined the family Aug. 3, 2011. The family now lives in a house at 11th and Oak. Tim likes to “flip” houses, Gladys explained.

The first week Gladys was in the U.S. she went to McDonald’s in Fremont and ordered spaghetti. They have in spaghetti at McDonald’s in the Phillipines. In Nebraska, she got a funny look, but no spaghetti.

And she learned to drive.

“There were a lot of adjustments, like driving in the winter,” Gladys said. “The laws here are really implemented well. In the Philippines they are not enforced well.”

Gladys came over initially on a conditinal spouse’s visa that was good for two years. Then she had a green card that was good for 10 years. After having that for three years she was able to apply for citizenship. So after six and a half years, Gladys did the paper work to get her citizenship. She had to file the application, pay a fee and be fingerprinted. After studying from a guide she received from the U.S. Customs and Immigration, Gladys had to answer six out of 10 questions correctly on a citizenship test. She answered the first six correctly and was allowed to quit there. There was also writing, reading and speaking exams.

“It was easy,” Gladys said. “They asked me to read one sentence, write one sentence. It was easy.”

She had to swear to tell the truth. The testing was supposed to take two hours.

Gladys was done in 20 minutes.

She is looking forward to being able to vote next year and traveling with her U.S. visa. Her first trip will be back to the Philippines to visit her family with her girls next year.

Her parents and six siblings remain in the Philippines. She calls them once a month. They are 13 hours ahead so it is difficult to Skype with them. What she misses the most about the Philippines is her family and the bonding they had, as they are all in pretty close proximity. And the food.

“We go to an Asian market in Omaha once a month so I can buy some Filipino foods they don’t have at local stores. I love to bake. I still have rice everyday and my girls can eat dried fish,” she added with a laugh.

She is teaching her girls some of the Filipino language but their cousins are more excited to practice their English on them.

What does this upcoming ceremony mean to Gladys?

“I have a great respect and admiration for this country and the opportunities here,” she said. “America is really a great country. I’m planning to publish a book about my life here compared to life in the Philippines.”

Tim is pretty proud of his wife— he is one to tell others of her accomplishments.
Both of the Starkeys work at North Bend schools as custodians. Gladys works from 5:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Tim works from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Gladys also works for DASH which places foreign exchange students in private schools. And she has a blog, “thepinaymon,” and is getting ready to publish her first book.

Though she may be Filipino by birth, as of Sept. 17 Gladys Starkey will be able to proudly say she is an American.

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