It took a lot of coaxing and reassurances for Norma Apodaca to keep her 3-year-old son Jeremiah Martinez from rushing up to sit with his father in the courtroom at the Richland federal building Monday.
The boy and his father, Carlos Martinez, had to sit apart for about an hour as the 30-year-old and 23 others were sworn in U.S. citizens by U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza.
But after the judge was done, Jeremiah wasted no time in rushing through the swinging doors separating the gallery from the rest of the courtroom to get to his father.
“I was kind of fearing, if I didn’t get (my citizenship), what would happen next,” Martinez told the Herald of the possibility of being separated from his family. Though he’s lived in the U.S. since he was 6, the El Salvadoran’s residency card was scheduled to expire in August.
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A similar theme about the real possibility of separation from loved ones along with the feeling of being removed from those around you often accompanies the immigrant experience, others said during Monday’s ceremony. But the new citizens made it past those fears and stood poised to establish their own paths forward while also adding their culture and perspectives to the diversity of the United States.
Although you are becoming U.S. citizens, that doesn’t mean you have to leave those countries you are from. Those are now going to be part of the fabric of our country.
Judge Salvador Mendoza, U.S. District Court
“Although you are becoming U.S. citizens, that doesn’t mean you have to leave those countries you are from,” said Judge Mendoza, the son of Mexican immigrants. “Those are now going to be part of the fabric of our country.”
The new citizens hail from 10 different countries in Europe, North and Central America and Asia. Many had family and friends observing the ceremony, which had representatives from local auditor offices and civic organizations.
Hanford High School’s Bella Voce choir performed the national anthem and the song “Bring Me Little Water Sylvie.” Martinez led courtroom in the Pledge of Allegiance.
H. Keith Moo-Young, chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities, spoke of his family’s experience as immigrants from Jamaica. And although Moo-Young grew up surrounded by Jamaican culture in an Washington, D.C., neighborhood, he and his siblings were reminded daily they were different.
“I remember my sister coming home at 10 years old and crying and saying in a heavy Jamaican accent, ‘I don’t know why they don’t like me,’” Moo-Young recalled.
I’m the living embodiment of what the American Dream can bestow on anyone.
H. Keith Moo-Young, chancellor Washington State University Tri-Cities
Another new citizen of the day, Ruben Ochoa, told those gathered that he spent the first six years of his life growing up in a simple hut in a remote part of Mexico until he and his mother came to join his father.
Ochoa said being reunited with his father allowed him to learn from him, about how to work hard and treat people fairly.
Moo-Young said his parents, who only had a high school education, encouraged him and his siblings and that is how they all managed to attend college and go on to professional careers.
“I’m the living embodiment of what the American Dream can bestow on anyone,” Moo-Young said.
The chancellor and Mendoza called on the newly sworn citizens to make full use of their new status, to participate in society and to register to vote.
That’s what Martinez plans to do.
“It gives me not just opportunity but the chance to be part of a great nation,” he said.