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Colombian professor celebrates US citizenship

Surrounded by friends, faculty and students, Ivan Iglesias celebrated an important milestone this past Friday: his official status as a citizen of the United States.

The University held a celebration for Iglesias, a Spanish language professor, in the Soderquist Business Center atrium.

Born in Barranquilla, Colombia, Iglesias came to the U.S. in 2000 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Arkansas. While studying modern languages at the Universidad del Atlántico, Iglesias was notified of a partnership the school had with the U of A.

He completed an application, the required English exam and an interview. As part of the two-year scholarship, he was granted a teaching assistant position and a student visa.

Two years passed quickly though, and Iglesias faced a crossroads. In order to stay in the U.S., he either needed to continue in higher education with a doctoral degree or get married.

He wanted to do both, but chose to focus first on marrying his wife, whom he met while at the U of A. With their union, he was granted resident status.

For a while, Iglesias felt perfectly content in remaining a Colombian citizen.

He lived and taught in Virginia for a few years, but made his way back to Arkansas, where his wife was originally from.

Four years ago, he joined the faculty here at the University.

With more and more time passing, Iglesias realized that his future lay in America. His wife and children were American citizens, his friends were here and he had built his career in the U.S.

“The more I live and see, the more thankful I am for the United States,” he said.

He decided to apply for U.S. citizenship and started the application process around the end of October.

The process included an online application, finger printing session, interview and test of English language assessment and American history. While some aspects, such as the historical questions, were more challenging, Iglesias was happy that it went by fairly fast.

On Jan. 25, Iglesias was granted official U.S. citizenship in a ceremony at the Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Fort Smith, Ark.

His next step will be obtaining an American passport.

Now that all is said and done, Iglesias is content and joyous in his decision. He said his wife, who helped and encouraged him along the way, is probably even happier.

But he also admitted that he cannot deny being Colombian is a significant part of his identity.

When Iglesias told his son that he had become American, the little boy immediately corrected him.

“No, Daddy, you’re an American citizen,” he reminded his father.

And there in that moment, something clicked.

“In my heart, I am still Colombian,” Iglesias said. “My son was really right.”

Even if the U.S. does not recognize him as a dual citizen, Iglesias now proudly sees himself as belonging to both Colombia and America.