Milestone represents more than a decade of work
by BETH ALTENA
Rosee Douthett is a quiet sidekick to her outspoken husband Jerry, of the “Kiko ate my toe” fame, but the Rockford nurse is a person with her own determination and perseverance. Rosee is celebrating becoming a citizen of the United States, an accomplishment that took her 10 years, cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, and is a the result of efforts that many Americans would be surprised to learn about.
Becoming an American was a dream of her father’s as a young man, and he had applied to Harvard and written a letter to then president John F. Kennedy. Surprisingly, he received a handwritten letter back from the president, encouraging him in his efforts to come to the United States. Sadly, the letter has since been lost.
Rosee’s father, Francisco, a lawyer, had to abandon his dream of coming to the United States, because he fell in love with her mother, Adaleda, and had to choose between his American dream and the love of his life. He chose love and Rosee and her six siblings were part of the couple’s long and happy marriage.
Rosee said becoming a citizen was an educational process and she learned a lot. She pointed out that there are many misconceptions about citizenship, and said most Americans believe if you marry a citizen, your citizenship is automatic, which isn’t true.
Rosee’s own efforts to come to the United States for a better life began in 1995 in the Philippines, where her family still lives. She said she wanted to come here because of her profession, nursing, which is poorly paid in her country of origin. As a nurse in the United States, she knew she would be able to support herself as well as send money back to her family, which she does faithfully.
“It is so hard to go abroad for work,” she explained.
Rosee said the moment she experienced when she swore her oath as a citizen was one of the most moving moments of her life. Americans born here likely have no idea the rigors of financial investment, time, education and effort that those from other countries must work through before they can count themselves a citizen.
As a first step to coming to America, Rosee had to pass a series of tests prior to being approved for immigration. She was young, in her early twenties, and preparing to leave her large family and the only life she had ever known. She knew she would be leaving everyone and everything and facing all her future challenges completely on her own.
In the Philippines, potential immigrants are required to hire a recruiter to find them a job, an organization to sponsor them, a place to live and a vehicle or way to get to work. Having those things lined up are required prior to being granted permission to immigrate and apply for a greencard. The cost of the recruiter was $10,000.
In addition, immigrants are required to pass a series of tests upon their arrival. Rosee’s tests were to prove she was proficient in speaking English, and in her profession as a nurse. The cost of the tests was $250 when Rosee took them 15 years ago, and is now $400.
Rosee was lucky to be sponsored by Metron of Cedar Springs, where she is still employed today. She said it is increasingly difficult for immigrants to be sponsored, because it is expensive for a business and so many have been forced to make cuts in their budgets. Since 9/11, the process has become even more difficult, and Rosee said it can be more difficult for Muslims, especially. Unfortunately, many Americans connect being Muslim with being a terrorist, a stereotype that can make being accepted here harder.
In Rosee’s case, being accepted and settling in was made easier by a chance meeting. New to town and not knowing a soul, Rosee ran into Douthett not long after she began working. The car her recruiter had found for her was a bad one and broke down regularly. Douthett used to offer her rides and on many occasions paid her car repair bill. Those who know him may recognize this generosity of spirit. What began as friendship ended up as more, and the couple married September 9, 2007.
Rosee said the process of becoming a citizen requires years of renewing her applications, taking tests, and moving from one status to another, each step taking years. As part of her testing, she is required to have a strong understanding of the United States government, history as well as English and, in her case, nursing. All immigrants are tested verbally and in writing. The court officer who gives the verbal test can ask any questions from the books provided to future citizens. Answering correctly, Rosee told him how many congressmen the United States has (435), how many senators (100), who makes federal laws, and many more questions some native-born residents might not know.
After 10 years of long, patient travel for tests and filing applications, remaining top of her field in nursing, and studying for so many tests, Rosee swore her oath of citizenship with new citizens from 83 different countries during a ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in July.
“It was a wonderful ceremony, very moving and beautiful,” she said.
As a new citizen, Rosee has accomplished what many are never able to do, including her father. Before his death, he visited as a tourist. Older by then, the cold bothered his arthritis, but father and daughter enjoyed seeing her home and he was able to see snow the only time in his life.
“One day he was here, the snow came down and then stopped. We were able to dance around in it and then he had to go home,” she remembered.
Rosee knows he would be proud of her today.
Rosee, Jerry and friends will celebrate with a visit to Grill One Eleven on September 7 with live music by a rock-and-roll and rockabilly legend, Deke Dickerson, who wraps up a tour of the United States from Texas to Nebraska with a last evening of playing right here in Rockford beginning at 6 p.m. Seating is open to the public as space allows. Dickerson, who just finished a music cruise with Kidd Rock, was invited to town by Jerry, who has many connections in the music industry. Jerry couldn’t be more proud of his wife.
“Where she works, they just love her because she really cares, and that’s who she is,” he said. “She is wonderful. She’s like an angel.”