'It feels like I am a part of something bigger': Kansas woman who emigrated from Jamaica becomes US citizen

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
Wendy Turner celebrates becoming a citizen of the U.S.

Last week, Wendy Turner fulfilled a lifelong dream. She became a United States citizen.

The youngest of 12, this Jamaican native found it difficult to succeed in her home country. 

"There were too many people and too little jobs," she said. 

Wendy met her future husband, William, through a mutual friend in her home country. After a little under a year of courtship and an elaborate ice cream parlor proposal, she moved to the U.S. in 2012 and married William. She first obtained a temporary resident card, and then another one. 

"For the longest while, I said I was going to do my citizenship," she said. "Then in November, one morning I got up and decided to apply."

Wendy said she studied hard for the test. She was afraid that the test would be difficult.

"It feels so good," she said. "The words I am a U.S. citizen — it feels like I am a part of something bigger for them to accept me into this country."

Immigrating to Kansas

Andre, 12, Wendy, Raine, 9, and William Turner celebrate Wendy and Andre becoming U.S. citizens.

Wendy is one of hundreds of Kansans who made the step to become a citizen. Last fall, from October until year's end, 74 Kansans became U.S. citizens. That number increased to 396 from January through March 2021. New numbers will come out later this summer. 

During 2019, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics, Kansans immigrated from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas to make the Sunflower State home. In 2019, more than 900 people from Mexico became citizens in Kansas. At least 100 immigrants came from each of the following countries: Burma, China, India, the Philippines, Somalia and Vietnam. The majority of these new Kansans are 25-44 years old. 

More than 40% of the more than 130,000 lawful permanent residents (green card holders like Wendy) who became U.S. citizens during the fourth quarter of 2020 came from Brazil, China, the Dominican Republic, India, Mexico and the Philippines. During this same period, 78% of refugees arrived from Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine.

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The top six countries from which 38% of naturalized U.S. citizens came from in 2020 were the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Burma, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Syria, respectively. 

Immigrants from all these countries are making their home in Kansas as well. Last year, more than 1,900 students who came from 28 countries attended Garden City High School. Some of these students were able to attend school in their birth country — others could not.

"It was really nice to see Wendy do this (become a citizen)," William said. "We're very proud of her."

The road ahead

Andre, 12, Wendy, Raine, 9, and William Turner celebrate Wendy and Andre becoming U.S. citizens.

Wendy is cooking in her children's school cafeteria. She is also studying accounting at Hutchinson Community College. Like many other immigrants, she is thankful for the ability to obtain a job and an education.

Wendy is not sure what she is going to do when she graduates from HCC. She hopes to either go into bookkeeping or attend a four-year school for accounting.

The leading occupations for Kansans who became citizens during 2019 were management, service, construction and maintenance. A very small number went into farming.

How to become a citizen

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is celebrating Independence Day this year by welcoming more than 9,400 new citizens in 170 naturalization ceremonies between June 30 and July 7.

Ask Emma is a computer-generated virtual assistant who can answer immigration questions and take people to the right location on uscis.gov for more information.  

Learn about Garden City's ESL program:Students flourish in Garden City High School ESL classes

Hutchinson is home

Before arriving in Kansas, the Turners lived in Orlando and central New Jersey. Although she loved being in America, Wendy did not feel totally at ease in those communities.

"We absolutely love it here," Wendy said. "I would choose Hutchinson to raise our kids over Orlando and New Jersey."

Their children, Andre, 12, and Raine, 9, enjoy their schools and participate in soccer and tennis.

"I have a neighbor that brings me eggs; I have another neighbor who brings me bread," Wendy said. "They make you feel so welcome. I love the U.S."