On this July Fourth, Mary Anny Oggioni Deyette, a native of Brazil and resident of Vineyard Haven, will have a great deal to celebrate. On Sunday, after living in the United States for eight years, she will celebrate the birthday of her adopted country as a new citizen.
“I’ll definitely be dressed in red, white, and blue,” said Ms. Oggioni.
Following a five-year process, Ms. Oggioni took the oath of allegiance along with 227 other immigrants, in a naturalization ceremony on March 10 at the JFK Library in Boston. The next month, she was elected to public office.
As a new American, she took to heart the messages she heard about civic duty and service to community. Ms. Oggioni jumped feet first into town service and local politics and ran for a seat on Tisbury’s finance and advisory committee (FinCom), as a write-in candidate in a race with one name on the ballot and three empty seats. She was elected on April 29 with 12 votes. There was some confusion about her win at first, because she was written in as Mary Oggioni, which she prefers to go by since her divorce in 2008, and she is listed on the town’s voter rolls as Mary Deyette.
“When I became an American, the speakers at the ceremony talked about all the responsibilities citizens have,” Ms. Oggioni said. “To start helping the community locally is a duty for me, something I feel I have to do. It’s a duty and an honor.”
When asked how she finds the time while working full-time at Mansion House and part-time as a medical interpreter, Ms. Oggioni said, “It only takes an hour or so a week. I’m very proud to be elected and hoping to do my best to help the town as much as I can.”
In preparation for her first FinCom meeting, Ms. Oggioni said she memorized the committee members’ names and read up on what they had been doing.
Her path to the United States didn’t begin until after she graduated from high school in 2001. Ms. Oggioni and her younger sisters Katya and Kamila grew up on a farm near the Brazilian town of Iuni with their parents Charle DeFritas and Suely Oggioni.
“It’s a gorgeous little town of about 30,000, in the Cabaro area, close to the second highest mountain in the country, Bandeira, which means flag,” Ms. Oggioni said.
Since her grandmother lived about two hours away in Victoria, the capital city, Ms. Oggioni said she and her sisters had the best of both worlds, growing up in a farm town and visiting the city frequently.
Her mother taught English and Portuguese, and also gave private tutoring in Italian, so Ms. Oggioni grew up learning all three languages, plus a little Spanish. Her father was a state policeman.
In the late 1990s, he started working in the U.S. and on Martha’s Vineyard as a stonemason and in construction for six months out of the year. Some neighbors from Brazil who had become U.S. citizens helped him get a visa and make travel arrangements.
Ms. Oggioni had always wanted to visit the U.S. after hearing about it from her father. After graduating from high school, she began college and was majoring in international relations, so her parents suggested that she spend a month with her father in the U.S.
She joined him on Martha’s Vineyard in April 2002 and knew at once one month was not enough.
“I said, please Dad, it’s so gorgeous here, let me stay for the summer,” Ms. Oggioni recalled.
He told her if she could prove to him that she could pay for her rent and food, she could stay.
“So I immediately got a job at the old A&P, and my first check was for two hundred and something,” Ms. Oggioni said. “I thought I was a millionaire. With the money exchange, it was about 4 to 1. It was like making a teacher’s salary for a month in Brazil, in a week, scanning groceries.”
Since she passed her Dad’s test, he agreed she could stay for the summer. One summer led to another. Ms. Oggioni started out on Martha’s Vineyard and then lived in Boston one winter. She would return to the Vineyard summers, and spend other winters on Cape Cod for cosmetology and manicurist school, and then aesthetics school in Las Vegas.
“It was just an adventure at first, then I started loving it,” Ms. Oggioni said. “I fell in love with the United States, so I chose to be here. Each time I went back to Brazil, I very much loved it, but it didn’t feel like home to me.”
What was it about the U.S. that made her want to become a citizen? “Freedom,” Ms. Oggioni said, “This is a dreamland, because this is a country of the people, not of the government. It’s a huge difference.”
Brazilians are crushed by taxes imposed by the government, she explained. “As a young professional, I can get to do things, I can own a car, I can go on trips,” Ms. Oggioni said. “Friends who are my age haven’t done half of what I’ve done in my life. They haven’t done anything but work and make just enough to pay the bills. It’s tough.”
Setting a goal to become a citizen, she went through the proper legal processes to obtain a green card and to meet the eligibility requirements for naturalization.
“You get a green card, and then you wait five years,” Ms. Oggioni explained. “It’s a long process, and a very expensive process, too. But I think every dime is worth it.”
Throughout the process from visa to citizenship, she said, she had to file paperwork two or three times, at a cost of more than $1,000 each time. Lawyer fees cost about $3,000.
“So the moment I met all of the requirements, the timeline and documentations, I filed for naturalization,” Ms. Oggioni said. “It took a little more than five years, and I’ve been here for eight years.”
During that time, she did expand her horizons.
“I’ve traveled everywhere in the country and haven’t found anywhere as pretty as Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Oggioni said. “I definitely know this is where I want to be. This was my first stop, but this is still the best fit for me.”
While establishing her residency requirement to become a citizen, Ms. Oggioni began working part-time at the Mansion House in 2004 as a room attendant. She worked her way up through the ranks through a variety of jobs while training as an aesthetician.
As a result of her hard work, for the past two years she has worked full-time as the Mansion House Spa manager and as an aesthetician and manicurist at Mansion House.
In addition to her job there, Ms. Oggioni is a certified medical interpreter and has worked part-time for Island Health Care (IHC) for the last four years providing services at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and other Island social service agencies.
While preparing for her naturalization test, Ms. Oggioni said that Susan Goldstein, co-owner of the Mansion House, and Jamie Douglas, Ms. Oggioni’s boyfriend, provided invaluable help, support, and encouragement.
“Susie Goldstein was a teacher and is very much my teacher, teaching me English and politics and U.S. history as well,” Ms. Oggioni said. “She played a big role in me becoming a citizen. ”
Mr. Douglas took her on a tour of historical sites in and around Boston, such as Concord, the Old Bridge, and the U.S.S. Constitution, she added. “Everywhere I went, the more I learned, and the more I wanted to learn about the country’s history,” Ms. Oggioni said. At her father’s suggestion, she read West Tisbury resident David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, which she said she found “very inspiring.”
Mr. Douglas and Ms. Goldstein attended the March 10 naturalization ceremony, along with several of Ms. Oggioni’s friends and her sister Katya, who moved to the Island last year and works as an emergency room receptionist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
“We were all crying,” Ms. Goldstein said. “There was a sense of new beginnings to the ceremony, like a wedding or a christening.
“I have the utmost admiration for people that come here to seek a better life, and Mary Anny represents that idea, that you give yourself a goal and work at it,” she added. “Mary Anny is embracing America and being a citizen, with the good and the bad. It’s thrilling.”
Ms. Oggioni said the reality of being an American citizen really hit her, when she and Mr. Douglas returned to the U.S. from a trip to Brazil to visit her family in April.
“When you travel outside the U.S. with a green card, when you come back, they say, okay, you can go in,”Ms. Oggioni said. “To American citizens, it’s ‘Welcome Home.'”