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Serendipitous Series of Events Leads Canadian to U.S. Citizenship

Submitted By John Whitla
New Citizen John Whitla Stands With Judge Doug Harpool at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield April 2019

“My full name is Christopher John Whitla.  I go by John, but all my processing is with full name, which goes way back to my mom wanting to call me John, but liking Christopher John better.  So forever more, throughout all the Naturalization Process, through the Green Card Process and everything else, it would always be Christopher”, says Canadian born John Whitla, who shares his story of Becoming American, for the KSMU Sense of Community Series.

John Whitla was born in Moncton New Brunswick Canada. His father was a college chemistry professor, and the family, which included John’s American born mother and his two brothers, lived in nearby Sackville, where John Whitla says he had a “Typical garden variety childhood, having a wonderful life growing up as a Canadian boy.”

New Brunswick; Nova Scotia to the west; and Prince Edward Island, are eastern Canada’s 3 Maritime Provinces, and were first explored by the French, who colonized the area in 1605 calling it Acadia, which it remained until British rule in 1710.  French culture remains strong in the region.

Credit Mike Smith / KSMU
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KSMU
Canadian Born John Whitla Became a U.S. Citizen in April 2019

“From Grade 1 on, everything was taught in French”, says John Whitla.  “Science was taught in French, Math was taught in French.  We didn’t have a class in English or English Grammar until grade 7. You get a sense at an early age that other languages and cultures are not things to avoid.  You think of it as something interesting and challenging and different”, said John Whitla.  

But here were times in that “Typical Garden Variety Childhood”, when John Whitla was more of an astute observer than active participant.

“It sounds so unfair to say it was an unremarkable childhood, but I was a kid who tended to live in my own head”, says John Whitla. “I was just a very, very quiet kid who didn’t hang out with a lot of people, and was very comfortable on his own, but very, very uncomfortable talking to people, being around people, interacting with people”, said Whitla.    

At Ontario’s Trinity College Prep School, where he attended 10th-12th grade, John Whitla was forced out of his shell of seclusion. 

“I don’t know what your experience is with private schools, but it’s pretty much Sink Or Swim”, says John Whitla.  “It’s a great institution, and it’s an all guys school so a lot of the social buffers that exist in a co-ed environment, don’t exist. It’s not quite as extreme as Lord of the Flies, but you have these power and political struggles going on. It was this microcosm of the world but at the same time you’re this very tight, close knit group, so there wasn’t the time to sort of go into the shadows like I’ve done for so many years, and that’s where I grew up”, said John Whitla.

During high school, and while in majoring in economics at college at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, John Whitla kept up a keen interest in the burgeoning computer industry, which played a key role in a job opportunity Whitla learned about after a stranger “Drew Him Out” in conversation on a plane from Canada to Portland Oregon, where Whitla was to meet with other family members for a cousin’s wedding.

“This is the part where as far as my immigration is concerned, it’s important to note that my mother is an American Citizen, born and raise,”, said John Whitla.   

“We were on the plane to Portland, and I was trying to bury myself in a computer magazine, not sending signals I wanted to talk to anyone, when this fellow two seats over leans in and says ‘So you’re into computers? And I’m like, Yes”, Whitla remembers.  ‘Well, what do you like about them’, he asked, and then (to myself) I said, OK, I guess we’re having this conversation, and we started to talk about computers for a while”, said John Whitla. 

The gentleman on the plane told John Whitla he owned a company in Portland which was hiring, and looking for persons knowledgeable in computers. He said Whitla should reach out to them while in town.

“So I reached out to the company, and the rest was kind of a whirlwind”, says Whitla.  “I was there for only four days, and it wound up being this compressed expedited series of interviews, after which they offered a job, IF I was able to work there”,  said John Whitla. 

“Then we basically had to figure out everything else”, said John Whitla.  “There’s a very explicit set of immigration rules.  They must be followed, and we followed all of them”, he said. 

The first step was for an official Adjustment of Status, which is the process of changing from Non-Immigrant status, to getting a Green Card with Permanent Resident status. John Whitla’s mother being a American Citizen helped expedite the process, and 2 months after his cousin’s May 1996 wedding, John Whitla was a Permanent Resident, working in Portland for DAT Solutions, the same company Whitla works for today, after moving to Springfield Missouri in 2002.

Wanting to become a citizen of the country he loves and has called home for over 23 years, in February, John Whitla passed the Naturalization Test, and two months later, in April 2019, Christopher John Whitla became a Citizen of The United States, during a swearing-in-ceremony at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. 

Submitted By John Whitla
John Whitla Holds His Certificate of U.S. Citizenship Following Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Ceremony 4/18/19

“And it was awesome.  It was so cool, and everybody else was going through the exact same thing I was going through”, says John Whitla.  “I’ve been a legal resident and this has been home to me since 1996, and April 19th was the first day I felt relaxed, and felt like I’m home and nobody can take this away from me now”, he said. 

“It’s hard to explain”, Whitla says.  “You know you’ve done everything right, you know you’ve followed all the rules and are a legal proper resident and an upstanding member of society.  But until I became a citizen, I felt that could be all taken away at a moment’s notice.  But when I became a citizen, it was totally different.  It was just like, feeling stress drain out of my body. Afterwards, we’re all carrying around our certificates and everybody was smiling.  Everyone was so happy”, said John Whitla. 

“For me, I went through it because I wanted to be a member of the country and I wanted to contribute”, says John Whitla.  “I wanted to be thinking about the future in a hopeful way, rather than a fearful way, and this is way to do it”, he said.

Mike Smith's career at KSMU began in 1980 as a student announcer when the former Navy Submariner attended (then) SMSU with help from the GI Bill. In 1982 Smith became a full time member of the KSMU family as "Chief Announcer", responsible for the acquisition, training and scheduling of the student announcing staff. It was also in 1982 when Smith first produced "Seldom Heard Music" a broadcast of Bluegrass which is still heard on KSMU and ksmu.org every Saturday night at 7CT.
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