For almost 15 years, Pablo Quinonez and his sister Catherine have lived in the United States since their mother, Rosa Noguera, brought them here from their native Guatemala with hopes of giving them a better life.
This is the only country the siblings — who are more comfortable speaking in English than Spanish — have known. But despite feeling like Americans, they couldn’t identify themselves that way.
That changed Saturday Nov. 9, when they swore allegiance to the United States with 34 other adults and minors in a special citizenship ceremony that was part of the annual American Heroes Air Show.
Under a blazing sun, surrounded by police and military representatives and sitting next to their parents and loved ones, they all raised their right hands and took an oath of fidelity to the country they already felt they’ve belonged to for many years.
“It finally feels like being free,” said Pablo, 18, who attends Antelope Valley College. “It’s exciting. A long time coming and you just feel like an American.”
“It means I can travel freely,” added Catherine, 20, who attends California State University, Northridge. “Now I can travel longer to study.”
Pablo and Catherine can thank their mother for becoming US citizens.
It was Noguera who became a US permanent resident first, and following through with the rest of the citizenship process, achieving naturalization three years ago.
“They are citizens of this country. They love this country,” a beaming Noguera said of her children. “The US inspires them with discipline and order.”
Joseph Hackbarth, deputy district director for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in Los Angeles, District 43, emphasized the courage and effort the parents showed for their children to become citizens.
It was the parents who had to take and pass English and civics tests, and show they had the moral fortitude and lawful background to join the other 20 million people who have become naturalized citizens in the past 100 years. Because their children were minors when they became citizens, their children became automatic citizens as well, without having to take any tests or comply with any requirements.
“You are benefiting from their hard work and determination,” Hackbarth told the 36 people who received their naturalization certificates because of their parents.
Rosa Duenez, 34 and a Canoga Park resident, knows this.
Her parents became American citizens in 2002. But she had not been able to become a true citizen until last Saturday because of personal and financial issues.
“This is a very proud moment for me, and I owe it to my parents who have been working hard for us. I just feel really happy. I love this country,” said Duenez, who was brought to the US at age 7.
“It (citizenship) opens doors to everything.”
For Jose Cardona, 37, this was about fulfilling his mother’s dream. His parents became permanent residents a long time ago, and several years later they became citizens.
“They’re the ones who made the move to give us a better life,” says this truck driver who was brought to the US at age 4.
But, already feeling like a citizen all these years, formally swearing his allegiance wasn’t a priority. He’d already renewed his “green card” (permanent resident card) at least three times. He also didn’t know that the process would be easier and faster, and that he would be exempt from taking a civic test or other requirements.
Two years ago his mother passed away.
“That motivated me to finish what she had started,” said Cardona, who initiated the process a year ago.
Another motivation was the fear he could be deported if he only had a “green card.”
“I’m thankful I can be here for my son. I was afraid of getting kicked out or my green card being revoked or not being renewed,” said the parent of a 7-year-old. “Now there’s an extra step just to kick me out of here,” he added, joking.
Feeling more secure now about staying permanently in the US is only one of the advantages of becoming citizens. The adults also have a say in the direction of the country with their votes.
“I’m taking political science and I know that a vote can change this country. Your vote counts,” Pablo said.
“I can’t wait (to vote),” said Duenez. “I want to be involved and make changes. I want to help the community with that change.”
Cardona also echoed this sentiment. He said he’s felt “helpless” these last few years not being able to vote.
“It means I can have a word, a say on what happens,” he said. “I wanted to speak my mind and vote and say what I feel. Now I get to speak what I feel and be proud and be a citizen.”