‘It was all for love’

Published 12:44 am Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Moving to the States, becoming citizen wasn’t in her plan; then she met Bill

LBW Community College history instructor Maria Tang-Thigpen’s reason to celebrate the Fourth of July is a little different than most. It is love.

After meeting the love of her life during a conference in Atlanta, Thigpen decided to pick up and move to the United States from Columbia to marry Bill Thigpen.

“I met Bill and fell in love,” Thigpen said. “We met in the States and then starting dating long distance. He finally proposed and then I moved to the United States to be with him.”

Thigpen said that she had no intention of moving to the U.S. until she met her husband.

“I didn’t think I would leave Columbia,” Thigpen said. “But I wanted to come because of him.”

After coming to the U.S., Thigpen went through the grueling process of obtaining citizenship.

“It took about five years to get my citizenship,” Thigpen said. “I started with getting a conditional green card that would last for two years. After that I was able to get a permanent residential green card and then after I obtained that I had to wait three years. Then I could apply to be a citizen.”

While Thigpen was in the States with her green card, she volunteered and did everything she could to obtain her citizenship.

“I had to send in my application, do several medical tests like x-rays, HIV tests and a tuberculosis test, because the government doesn’t want to bring in somebody who would be a hassle,” Thigpen said. “So after they see that you are healthy enough, they start the biometrics exam where they take your fingerprints and photos of you.”

Even after all of these exams, Thigpen still had to prove that her marriage was real in a personal and tricky interview in Atlanta.

“They call you for an interview in Atlanta to see if you have been honest on your application,” Thigpen said. “They ask questions like, ‘Let me see your key ring to make sure your keys match your husband’s,’ and ‘What type of pajamas does your husband wear to sleep?’ I understood why they had to ask these questions because there are so many people trying to obtain citizenship through a false marriage.”

During the interview, Thigpen was also asked to bring pictures of her wedding and letters from the community attesting that she and her husband were actually married.

Once the interview was over, Thigpen then had to take a test about the U.S. government and an English test to see if she could read, write and speak the language.

“They give you a study guide with 100 questions on the U.S. government and the history of the United States,” Thigpen said.

The Fourth of July holds a special place in Thigpen’s heart after working so hard to obtain her citizenship.

“It is a privilege for me,” Thigpen said. “The citizenship ceremony was one of the proudest days of my life because of what it represents. It is so amazing for me to be a part of a country with the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and all of these liberties. It is an honor.”

For any immigrants trying to earn their citizenship, Thigpen said to be patient and that everything is worth it.

“It takes a lot of time, and it is very expensive,” Thigpen said. “But it is definitely worth it. It gives you the right to vote, it protects you from being deported and you get to be apart of such an amazing country.”

Every Fourth of July, Thigpen and her husband celebrate with George and Brenda Gantt.

“Up until last year we went to George and Brenda’s house,” Thigpen said. “They would have a huge party of maybe 250 people, barbeque and everyone wearing red, white and blue. It was a true Fourth of July party.”

The Thigpens have been married 21 years. She now teaches history at LBW Community College and is the chair of the Business, I.T. and Social Sciences Department at LBW. Her husband is an engineer at PowerSouth.