YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — Lene Ferreira once told her family that she was leaving Brazil for the United States for only about six months.
Nearly 23 years later, she was officially certified on Nov. 7 as a naturalized citizen of the United States of America — and she credits “angels” in Spencer, Nebraska, for helping her.
Ferreira told the Press & Dakotan that she had a bit of an artist’s spirit when she was growing up in Brazil.
“I was adopted to a family,” Ferreira said. “I had dreams of being in the military. I had dreams of being a vet. I never reached out to those dreams, but I have the gift of an artist. That’s what I did in Brazil. I worked in the local schools painting outside the walls and inside the walls for the kids.”
She eventually made some friends within the Brazilian Air Force and began attending college.
And that’s when she was approached with an opportunity.
“I got a call from my friend from the Air Force saying, ‘Lene, let’s go to America,’ ” she said. “I said, ‘I can’t. I’m back to college, I have a job and my life was good.’ He says, ‘Lene, just for six months.’ ”
Ferreira had a week to get ready from that moment. Although nervous, she obtained the necessary documents to make the journey north.
“My aunt said, ‘You won’t come back. You won’t come back.’ And I said, ‘No, I will. I promise. Six months,’ ” Ferreira said.
In late June 1997, Ferreira and her friends embarked from Brazil for the United States after being seen off by some of her family at the airport.
And then came a magic moment.
“The first view, I’m never, ever going to forget,” she said. “I was on the plane and right outside the window was the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers (in New York City). I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is just like a movie. A dream!’ ”
Ferreira’s first job in the country came as a greeter at a jewelry store in Boston. During this time, she learned English and fell in love with the country.
“It was an amazing feeling to have opportunity and learning so many new things — a new way to be with yourself,” she said. “It’s amazing. I moved on to (different) states.”
She also would see some of the darker sides of America
At one point, she entered into a marriage that turned abusive and had a son, who is now attending the South Dakota School of Mines.
“I met this wonderful family in Spencer, Nebraska, who took me in and introduced me as their daughter,” she said. “They are my angels. They saved me. Thanks to her, I am here today.”
Eventually, she and her son found their way out of the relationship and to the city of Yankton.
Ferreira works at the Avera Sacred Heart Majestic Bluffs Sister James Care Center.
“It’s my second home,” she said. “They’re my family, and they care a lot about me.”
About a year ago, Ferreira believed it was time to move forward with becoming a citizen. She’d complete her interview and passed all of the required tests, and last month, she received a letter informing her she’d be taking her oath at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls.
“They took my Green Card because I no longer need that,” Ferreira said. “It was a beautiful ceremony.”
She added that she’s beyond excited about being a newly minted citizen.
“There’s so much I can do now,” she said. “I can vote. … I’m going to vote for the first time in the USA. It’s exciting. It’s huge. It’s an amazing feeling.”
With her new freedom, Ferreira said she plans to make her first trip back to Brazil since 1997 sometime next year to visit her family.