It's Anton Moussaev's birthday. Well, he was born in the Soviet Union in March 37 years ago, but he officially became an American on July 4, 2017 at a naturalization ceremony at Old Salem. So, he said that's his "second birthday."
Anton will celebrate by giving the keynote speech at the ceremony in Old Salem today, where 50 new American citizens will become naturalized. He said he's really nervous and excited to share his story with the crowd.
"Now when you're in Old Salem, I mean, it just screams 'America' at every corner, and that's how it initially started," he said.
Old Salem is, fittingly, where Moravian settlers first turned Independence Day into a party in 1783. Instead of a basic proclamation, the German Protestant immigrant community decided to throw a proper celebration, with music and everything. The living museum there partners with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to host a naturalization ceremony there every year.
Anton came to Winston-Salem in 2006, but it would take him 10 years, 6 months and 8 days to become a citizen.
Anton followed his parents to the U.S. from Russia. His dad, Alexander Moussaev, was an Olympic gymnastics coach. Both of Anton's parents became naturalized citizens, but they were unable to petition for his citizenship because he was an adult. Soon after arriving in the Triad, Anton fell in love with a local guy named John Rincic and committed to staying: First on a tourist visa, then on a student visa when he enrolled at UNC-Greensboro. Moussaev then became a real estate agent. He admits that his documentation lapsed before he was able to establish legal permanent residency.
"I do not wish for my story to be one that glorifies those who are undocumented or became undocumented, but rather I hope it is an example as to why immigration reform is important, and why it should be focused on family unity, fairness and equality."
After four years together, Anton and John married in Washington, D.C. surrounded by family and friends. They went to D.C. because, at the time, same-sex marriage was illegal in North Carolina and in many other states. That's also why John couldn't petition for his husband's citizenship.
That changed in 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. The DOMA decision legalized same-sex marriage across the country, and opened a pathway to citizenship for Anton.
"It was a great victory for us, and it was a great victory for the entire country," he said.
Anton applied for legal permanent residency so he could legally stay in the country with his American husband, and he received a green card. After a three-year mandatory waiting period, Anton was able to apply for citizenship in late 2016.
The following June, he had his final interview with federal officials. Anton said he was especially nervous because he really wanted to be naturalized at the Old Salem July Fourth ceremony, the one that "screams America." At long last, things worked out.
Anton says he's felt like an American for a long time, but now things are different because he can vote. He's confident that his vote is worth more in the United States than in was in Russia. He said he thinks his path to citizenship was strewn with unnecessary obstacles, and he's hopeful that the U.S. will reform its immigration policies. He said he believes many of the people who will take the Oath of Citizenship in Winston-Salem today would agree.