‘It’s such a blessing’

(Contributed photo)
On Independence Day, a Brazilian-born Henrico resident took the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance on the steps of the Virginia Historical Society and felt peace finally settle around her.

Jeanette Hamlett’s journey to U.S. citizenship is a story of faith and love, which she told with her husband, John Hamlett, by her side. She often turned to him to help her pronounce words she was unsure of, and the pair matched each other in plaid shirts in differing shades of blue.

Jeanette Hamlett is 56 years old. She was born in Rio de Janeiro, one of eight children. Her father was a Baptist minister and her mother was a “pastor’s wife.”

Her first language was Portuguese and her second was English, which she began studying when she was 19. She attended a seminary school run by American Southern Baptists, and then Fluminense Federal University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Litras – the study of literature and language, she explained.

Next, she attended teaching school and then earned her master’s degree in teaching students with disabilities, she said. For 30 years, she taught Portuguese and basic English to children of all ages. She married a Brazilian and had two children, Rebecca and Daniel.

Jeanette met John in 2004 when he was on a mission trip in Brazil and she was getting divorced. He was married and had two children himself, Rebekah and Joseph.

John is from the Roanoke/Salem area but moved to the Richmond area in 1986. He is a professional psychological counselor at Medical Counseling Associates in Henrico and a part-time minister at Chamberlayne Baptist Church.

In 2007, John visited Brazil again. This time, he was nearing the end of his own divorce. Jeanette and John fell in love.

“We helped each other,” John said. Jeanette added, “We were both recovering.”

They shared a love of music, particularly Christian music. Jeanette was the youth choir director at her church in Brazil. She taught the children to sing a few songs in English – a surprise for the crowd and John.

“I thought the Holy Spirit was enabling me to translate,” John said.

They spoke over the internet for a while and decided Jeanette would move to the United States because John couldn’t speak Portuguese. She immigrated in 2008 on a tourist visa. Then she got a student visa to study English at VCU and completed an English as a Second Language program after three years, she said. She was issued a work permit.

Jeanette and John married on July 25, 2009 at First Baptist Church in Richmond. They lived in Hanover, where they stayed until they moved to Henrico in 2012.

Once they were married, Jeanette was able to apply for a temporary green card. After she was issued that, she applied for a permanent green card, she said.

With her permanent green card in hand, Jeanette was finally able to work on bringing her children to the U.S. They had been living with their father in Brazil while Jeanette waited for immigration to process everything. She hadn’t seen them in a year.

“It was the most difficult time,” she said.

“When I saw my son after a year, I couldn’t recognize him.”

Her daughter Rebecca, who is now 24, had begun law school in Brazil. She quit to move to the U.S. and is now a co-manager aAnn Taylor Loft at Short Pump.

Jeanette’s son Daniel, who is now 18, began ninth grade at Douglas S. Freeman High School after the move and graduated this spring. He will attend Longwood University in the fall.

“It has been a victory,” Jeanette said. “Because when he arrived here, he couldn’t speak English. Can you imagine?”

The children, who now have permanent green cards as well, are very brave kids, Jeanette said.

Since Jeanette has been in the U.S., her father died. Her mother is nearly 90 years old. She said it had been difficult to live so far from her family.

One of her sisters lives in Boston and works for the Brazilian consulate there, but her other siblings all live in Brazil.

“Some of them understand why I’m here,” Jeanette said. … “But some them of them don’t understand why I have to live so far from them, from my country.”


Jeanette Hamlett (left) receives citizenship papers during her naturalization ceremony July 4.


‘A tremendous amount of anxiety’
After her children joined her in the U.S., Jeanette began to think about naturalization. In the beginning of her immigration process, she just wanted to be with John and seeking her permanent green card was a practical necessity.

The whole process was stressful, she said. Getting her permanent green card required a lot of paperwork, which was often slowly processed. She also had to prove to immigration that she was financially able to support her children, so she cleaned houses and saved money for a while. Her final interview before getting her permanent green card made even John nervous.

“There was just a tremendous amount of anxiety,” John said.

But despite the struggle, Jeanette decided to apply for citizenship. She endured more paperwork and studied U.S. history, politics and geography to pass the naturalization test.

"I think most Americans don’t have a clue about what immigrants go through,” John said.

Finally, after much waiting, Jeanette received a letter in March that said her citizenship ceremony would take place at a courthouse on July 4. Two days later, she received another letter that said the ceremony had been canceled and did not give a new date for it.

Jeanette panicked. She thought only her ceremony had been cancelled and that she had done something wrong.

Finally, she received a call from immigration just 10 days before July 4, she said. They told her that she would be naturalized at an Independence Day ceremony at the Virginia Historical Society. She doubted if the official was telling the truth – until she finally received a letter with the same information the Friday before the ceremony.

On the Fourth, she was naturalized at last.

“That day was a special day,” Jeanette said. “I felt so good. I still feel the emotion of the day.”

After all the time and money that went into getting her citizenship, she finally felt calm, she said.

“It’s such a blessing,” Jeanette said. “It’s such a wonderful feeling that is above everything. All the struggling. All the stress. The peace was much, much bigger.”

She considers herself American, but still Brazilian.

“I was born there, and I love my country,” she said.

Now, Jeanette tutors, and she recently took psychology classes at VCU. She does not know yet if she will pursue a degree at VCU, partly because she must pay out-of-state tuition. She has not lived in Virginia long enough to qualify for the in-state rate.

The Hamletts enjoy living in Henrico with their Chihuahua/Pomeranian mix Peanut, they said. John is close to his work, the county has good schools and they like being in a suburban area.

“We have everything we need here,” Jeanette said.

Perhaps in the future, when they retire, they will move to a more rural area, the type Jeanette loves most, she said.

For now, she is content.

“I thank God for the privilege to be an American and to live in this country freely,” she said.
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