Proudly Peoples: A Citizenship Dream Realized
September 17, 2021
Gerda Balint Mortgage Loan Officer Assistant
Citizenship Day, observed on September 17, has a special meaning for the thousands of individuals who become naturalized U.S. citizens each year. Founded by a Hungarian immigrant, the day celebrates citizenship and is appropriately coupled with Constitution Day, which commemorates the 1787 signing of the country’s founding document. The Constitution is central to the Oath of Allegiance taken by naturalized citizens.
For Peoples Bank Mortgage Loan Officer Assistant Gerda Balint, this Citizenship Day will celebrate a day she’ll never forget – the culmination of a years-long process to fulfill her dream of becoming an American citizen.
Gerda was born in Sweden to Hungarian parents, who migrated during the time of communist rule in Eastern Europe. She grew up speaking both Hungarian and Swedish but also longed to learn English. She recalls watching American cartoons and movies as a child and wishing to be like the kids she saw on tv. “I always wanted to learn English and live in America. It was a cultural thing - I was enamored with the idea of being able to own a car and house and shop at big grocery stores, where you can buy more than just food. Even riding a school bus was so cool. In Europe, you rode public transportation or walked.”
When her mother moved to the U.S. in the mid-1990s, Gerda would get her chance to be like those American kids on tv. By then, her parents had divorced, and each had remarried. She stayed with her father in Sweden as she waited for visa applications to be approved for her and her older sister.
Her opportunity came in 1999 when Gerda was just 11 years old. Her dad put her on a plane to Florida, where her mom was waiting to take Gerda to a new home in Fort Lauderdale. She spoke not a word of English and traveled without any family. Her only companion was a flight attendant who spoke neither Hungarian nor Swedish. One of her most poignant memories of that trip was of her Paris layover. Gerda chuckles as she remembers how the flight attendant “kept talking to me, and I just kept nodding because I didn’t understand anything she said to me.”
The family eventually moved to Washington state, seeking better economic opportunities. They settled in Lynnwood, continuing on to Wenatchee in 2002 when her mother got a job in Leavenworth. Now 14 years old, Gerda started high school and graduated four years later. Her teens and early 20s were especially tough, and she felt she might never attain her dream of becoming a U.S. citizen.
However, she endured, enrolling at Central Washington University at the age of 26 to study marketing. A year later, she obtained her Green Card, which allowed her to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. Acquiring a Green Card is an instrumental step in the citizenship process; applicants must reside in the U.S. as lawful permanent residents for at least five years.
In 2018, Gerda graduated magna cum laude
with a degree in Business Administration and started with Peoples Bank as a teller in Wenatchee that fall. When a marketing position opened up at a local business, she left to pursue what she thought was her planned career. “I loved Peoples Bank when I worked in retail, but I wanted a chance to try something in the field that I trained for in college.” Realizing that role wasn’t right for her, she enthusiastically returned to Peoples Bank last summer, motivated further by the fact that the Bank “really cares about their employees.”
As Gerda settled back into a familiar workplace, she geared up for the conclusion of the multi-year pursuit of her childhood dream. On May 7, 2021, she became a U.S. citizen.
“It means a lot to me to be able to tell my story,” Gerda says and graciously offers her advice to those working towards their U.S. citizenship. “The test was probably one of the easiest parts. I say this because it’s taken so long to get my citizenship. Be patient, keep persevering, and don’t give up because you can do it. Be proud of yourself and who you are; keep pushing for your goals and dreams.”
Peoples Bank is committed to celebrating the diversity of our employees. We believe each person’s unique background makes us stronger and better equipped to serve our communities. In honor of Gerda’s story and in recognition of Citizenship Day, Peoples Bank is donating $5,000 to Hand In Hand Immigration Services, a Wenatchee-based organization whose mission is “To assist, motivate, and empower immigrants and their families to obtain their U.S. citizenship.” Thank you, Gerda, for sharing your story!