Roelofse family is, first and foremost, American
Tiaan Roelofse tells people he is from Pennsylvania. But they have heard his accent and persist, "Yes, but where are you really from?"
He and his wife Daline carry touches of the Afrikaans lilt from their native South Africa. Their children, also born in the foreign land, do not stand out in conversation. Yet the four Greencastle residents are speaking the truth when they announce their home, because as of August 26 they are American citizens.
Actually, Tinille, 19, has to wait until this winter for her formal papers because of procedural details. She watched her parents and brother Christiaan, 15, beat her to their new status in Philadelphia, the day she also started college.
The journey to citizenship was a long one. And expensive, running thousands of dollars per person, but the Roelofses benefitted from Tiaan's company, which sponsored the family and paid many of the fees along the way.
Tiaan, 50, transferred to the United States in October 2000, working in the IT field in Atlanta, then Oakland, and finally Greencastle. He and Daline, 51, had always wanted to live in this country. They had several reasons. South Africa had a crime rate higher than they were comfortable with. The future seemed unpredictable. America offered many opportunities for a good life.
"It's the place everyone wants to be," said Tinille.
The other three followed Tiaan in June 2001. He had a visa which allowed him to work legally. All eventually received their green cards, which were an indication of permanent residency. The immigrant couple could then continue their employment, pay taxes, purchase a home and live the American dream. The children went to school. A wait of five years began before they could apply for citizenship.
Paperwork was daunting as they obeyed Homeland Security regulations. They had to wade through documents, get fingerprinted, undergo an FBI clearance, get extremely detailed health examinations and immunizations and sit through interviews. Finally, there was the test.
The Roelofses needed to prove to US officials that they understood the English language, knew the fundamentals of American history and government, supported the principles of the Constitution and would swear allegiance to the United States.
So they went to the city of brotherly love. It was a long day.
They awoke at 4 a.m., left town at 5, stopped in Bloomsburg to drop off Tinille's college gear, continued to the Homeland Security building in Philadelphia, took part in the exercises, and returned home at 10 p.m.
The middle of the day was significant. Tiaan and Daline passed their citizenship tests. They answered at least six of 10 random questions correctly. They had done their homework, studying a specific civics book ahead of time. It contained one hundred possible questions.
"You don't know what they'll ask so you have to have all that information in your head," Daline sighed.
Tiaan knew the year the Constitution was authored, 1787. Other topics were names of three colonies, the oceans on either side of the country, the meaning of the stars and stripes on the flag, the name of someone who signed the Declaration of Independence. Christiaan watched but was excused from the test because of his age.
Tinille also watched, and will have her own turn. "I'm not looking forward to it. I'm not a good test taker." She was fingerprinted at age 14 to get her green card, which delayed her eligibility compared to the rest of the family, though she already feels like an American in her heart. She wants to also retain dual citizenship status like her sibling.
The new citizens were among 66 people from 35 countries that day. After taking an oath, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance, received certificates and watched President Barack Obama welcome them on a video. A patriotic song rang through the halls.
Tinille observed the crowd. "Everyone held their little flag. I saw a man crying. It made me happy-sad."
Tiaan and Daline relinquished their native citizenship, not looking back. They revel in their place among the people with whom they live and work.
"We immediately registered for voting," said Tiaan. "I've got peace of mind now. There are no longer extra steps to take because I'm not a citizen."
Daline is happy that what she waited so long for finally occurred. "It's a goal and I'm happy because you've wanted this to happen all the time you've lived here. But it doesn't feel different because everyone has always been kind and we've been accepted into the community."
Tiaan summed up their attitude. "I'm proud to be an American."