Dr. Nil Santana, associate professor of art and design, is finally able to call himself an American citizen.
Dr. Santana first came to Abilene in 1998 from Campina Grande in Brazil as part of a two-year graduate program at ACU. When he, his wife and two young children landed in the Key City, Santana said they had no plans to make Texas their permanent home.
“We quickly realized that the community, both ACU and Abilene in general, was a very welcoming community,” he said. “When I finished my degree and was invited to teach, we had still not decided that this would be the place where we would stay, until four years later.”
Cheryl Bacon, chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, had Santana as a student in 1998 and said his infectious creativity is what makes him a great person, professor and now American citizen.
“Nil is just a treasure for the university,” she said. “I know that students love him and his classes, and he just embraces the opportunity to support student creativity.”
The desire to seek citizenship was not a quick decision for Santana and his family; they had mulled it over for several years before taking the final steps to become U.S. citizens.
“When we talked about becoming American citizens a few years ago, maybe eight to 10 years ago, we understood that it would take some time,” he said. “Shifting from the work visa into the green card was part of that process; once we reached the fifth year of the green card, that’s when we initiated the process.”
After beginning the final process of gaining permanent resident status, Santana had a bit more time to wait before he and his family would be declared Americans.
“The final process itself took about three months from the time we went to Lubbock for fingerprinting and biometrics, and about another nine to 10 weeks to receive the letter for an appointment in Dallas,” he said.
Santana received the letter containing the time and date for the citizenship interviews while he and his family were on vacation in Cancun. The family was waiting for the letter so eagerly that they had a friend check their mail everyday while on vacation. Once the letter finally arrived, the family prepared for their interviews.
The family was officially declared American citizens on July 9 of this year, something Santana said is a blessing and a relief.
“My wife and I went through this decision process not only because we felt it was the right thing to do, but it takes out a lot of stress from us in relation to our immigration status,” he said. “The question for us always was, ‘what’s going to happen if the green card expires, are we going to be allowed to renew it, are we going to go back to Brazil?'”
Now that Santana is an American citizen he is allowed to participate in civic responsibilities such as voting and serving on a jury, the latter being something Santana, like most Americans, begrudgingly participates in.
“I want to be engaged and belong to the community,” he said. “But I am not so much looking forward to belonging to popular juries. I have used the excuse that I’m not an American citizen so I can’t be on a jury in the past, but now if I receive a letter, I’d have to come up with a different excuse. ”
Although Santana and his family have made a commitment to reside in the U.S., he said he will keep their heritage alive by taking trips to Brazil every other year to maintain family ties.
“Being an expatriate is a long process, and at times I’ll be homesick thinking of the food, culture, friends and family in Brazil,” he said. “But it’s a feeling that I think I’ll cope with.”