For Yuliana Santibanez, spring brought graduation from SM South — and U.S. citizenship

Yuliana Santibane

Most high school seniors are thinking about their diplomas, picking up summer jobs or internships, and making post-graduate plans for college or a career.

For SM South’s Yuliana Santibanez, senior year was made even busier by pursuit of her U.S. citizenship.

Santibanez came from Mexico to the United States with her parents when she was a year old and grew up in Overland Park. Seventeen years later, on April 26, she obtained her citizenship.

It was a big milestone, but she says she didn’t really have time to celebrate — she had school and work later that day.

“I haven’t met anyone in this school, so far, myself, that has gone through the citizenship within high school years,” she said. “I’ve been here practically my entire life, and then just growing up, finding out that you’re not like everyone else, that certain privileges will get taken away if you don’t become a citizen, it was just kinda bizarre to me when I was younger.

“You don’t fully wrap your head around what it is. You’re like I’m just like everyone else, but then there’s this piece of paper that… separates me from everyone else.”

To get her citizenship, she had to pay more than $1,000 to fill out an application, take the citizenship test and get her green card to live in the U.S.

Because of work and school, she said didn’t have enough time to study and memorize all 100 questions on the test over the U.S. Constitution and American history like she had planned. They gave her a month to study, and for the test, they only up to 10 random questions from the list.

“Honestly, I wasn’t fully prepared for it. I had to work six days a week,” she said. “I was kinda worried I wouldn’t pass the test. It was very nerve-wracking.”

But when the results came back, she’d succeeded. (She said some of the questions on the test were patronizingly easy for someone who lived almost her entire life in the U.S. One question asked which colors the American flag has. “It makes me feel kinda dumb,” she said. “I had to write stuff I learned in kindergarten.”)

Now that she has her citizenship and has also registered to vote, Santibanez has other big dreams. As a student who is serious about her artwork, she is planning to attend either the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design or, if she gets accepted to her dream school, the Savannah College of Art and Design to pursue an art degree.

Most of her art platform is on printmaking and illustrations. She often uses pen and ink as well as plexiglass — by hand, and rarely on a digital platform.

“I really like to stick to traditional styles,” she said. “I feel like you get a better effect out of it. I just feel like it’s more personal when you do it that way.”

Inspired by the human spirit, Santibanez particularly enjoys creating work that connects people to their deepest thoughts and emotions. For the past several months, she has been concentrating her work on mental health issues.

“People are my main focus; I feel the most connection with them,” she said. “I’ve struggled a lot with mental health myself, when I was younger. I went through some depression for a while. I feel like a lot of people, nowadays, our age, seem to think that it’s a trend now. I think words are very powerful, so I’ve used some of that in my artwork to represent how a person can feel.”

Eventually, she’d like to start her own tattoo art business and incorporate her own cross-hatching techniques into her style to create a unique look.

“I think the tattooing industry is such a cool way of doing artwork every single day, making an income and just really impacting people’s lives.”