From Hardship to Citizenship

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Raya Feltner
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Born in the Cayman Islands, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Wilson, 510th Fighter Generation Squadron aircrew flight equipment assistant NCOIC, spent his formative years immersed in the vibrant culture and warmth of his homeland. But life had other plans for him.

After nine years, Wilson’s world shifted as his mother made the difficult decision to uproot the family in pursuit of a brighter future in the United States. Little did he know, this decision would set him on a path filled with challenges, sacrifices and ultimately, unwavering determination.

Upon arriving in the United States, Wilson's family faced the harsh realities of immigration struggles.

“We moved to Houston, Texas, where some of our family decided to help us, but they quickly found out they couldn't really do much,” said Wilson. “They kind of gave up and basically told us to leave. So then we went to Colorado Springs to live with another set of our family members.”

Unfortunately, Wilson, his twin brother and his mother were met with the same circumstances. With their family members unable to care for them, once again they were back on the road searching for a place to stay.

“My mom didn’t want to keep depending on people,” recalled Wilson. “So she found the will, even as an immigrant, to build her own life and build a life for us.”

Wilson’s mother was able to obtain a job, a home and enrolled both Wilson and his brother into school. Life began to look hopeful as their family built roots in Colorado Springs.

“She built a life for us, little by little, until we were 22,” said Wilson. “But all the trials and tribulations she had been through began to take a toll on her body and made her sick over time.”

When Wilson’s mother grew ill, both him and his brother were faced with a difficult crossroads. If they admitted his mother to the hospital, for the care she desperately needed, there was a chance she would be deported back to the Cayman Islands due to insufficient documentation. Not seeking the proper care however, could turn fatal.

“At that time, I stayed up all night just researching how to get her citizenship,” said Wilson.

Viewing it not only as a path to citizenship but also as a means to honorably serve their adopted country, Wilson and his brother decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.

“Before we signed anything we were kind of scared,” said Wilson. “So we went online and looked around at jobs, did some research first to see what would be best. AFE stuck out the most and we’re glad we chose it because of the opportunities.” With both Wilson and his brother acting as vetted sponsors via their military commitment, their mother was able to begin the steps necessary to gain U.S. citizenship.

“After tech school I did the recruiters assistance program, and was able to go with her to get the paperwork started,” said Wilson. “The legal immigration lady said that because she had two sponsors in the United States Air Force the paperwork was approved right then and there, all she had to do was live in the U.S. for five years.”

A sigh of relief rushed over their family as the light at the end of the tunnel was finally in sight.

“We finally got what we needed, mission accomplished; my mom has citizenship,” said Wilson. “But there’s lots of other benefits we were able to take advantage of through the Air Force.”

The Air Force became more than a means to an end, it became a pathway for a better life and ultimately a career. From the Cayman Islands to the skies, Wilson now speaks of aspirations to further his service commitment.

“My brother and I are both seven classes away from completing a bachelor’s. We’re twins so we’re just trying to match each other’s pace,” said Wilson. “Once we complete our degrees we’ll probably try commissioning and look at becoming pilots.”

Wilson hopes those in his same position are inspired by his story and keep pushing forward, no matter the challenges.

“Just don’t give up. Don’t forget where you come from,” said Wilson. “If you have a goal just keep going. Because you’ll get it if you’re persistent.”