Yosemite a majestic setting to achieve citizenship

jjardine@modbee.comJuly 2, 2013 

immigration

With American flags flying, sixty-five people took the swearing-in and became new American citizens during a naturalization ceremony that took place at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.

MARK CROSSE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo

— They woke up Thursday morning as Bulgarians, Indians, Mexicans or Filipinos.

They awoke Friday morning as proud citizens of the Good Ol' U.S. of A.

Welcome, my fellow and fella Americans.

Valley residents were among the 64 who received their citizenship certificates atop Yosemite's Glacier Park last week, with different backgrounds, different reasons and different routes for coming to this country. Their common denominator is that they all took the oath of allegiance to defend the Constitution and promised to be great Americans. And in doing so, they renounced loyalty to their homelands.

So what compelled them to become us?

Petia Gueorguieva and her husband, Vesselin Gueorguiev, came to the states from Bulgaria in 1995. After receiving their degrees from Louisiana State University, they needed to decide whether to return to Bulgaria or stay here to continue their education.

They landed in 2007 at UC Merced, where Petia is the coordinator of the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math program. Vesselin moved over to California State University, Stanislaus, in 2012 and delivers lectures in physics while doing research work at Fresno State.

Bulgarian brain drain, you might call it. They didn't come here with the idea of becoming citizens. It just happened that way, as it has with so many other immigrants.

"You never know," Petia said. "It was all supposed to be temporary."

Daughters Alex and Anna were born here and thus are U.S. citizens.

Mom and Dad joined the club Thursday.

"It feels nice," Petia said. "America is a land of open doors and many opportunities."

Abraham Montes Perez, like new citizen Luis Valencia of Newman, came to the United States from Mexico.

Perez arrived 25 years ago and eventually achieved permanent resident status.

"The first time I came up to the U.S., I made up my mind," said Perez, who soon immersed himself in an English language course for adults. "I wanted to start a new dream, plant a new seed in a different place."

Moving to Modesto more than a decade ago, Perez went to work for Walton Patterson, owner of Preferred Pool Service.

"He gave a chance," Perez said. "He believed in me."

After Patterson died in 2009, Perez took over the business. Once he became eligible for citizenship, he dove into the five-month course and relied on his daughter Karina, a 16-year-old student at Ceres' Central Valley High, to help him prepare for the citizenship test.

"He had me ask him questions," she said. "Those 'American' questions."

He answered them and is now a citizen.

"I can feel it," Perez said.

So can Gino Mallari, a 25-year-old born in the Philippines. He will enter Modesto Junior College later this summer, hoping to become a registered nurse. He came to the United States six years ago at his grandparents' behest.

"I've been having a flashback," he said shortly after receiving his paperwork. "It's hard to live in another country. You have your traditions and your environment."

Hard, he said, until the day that other country became his own. "It hit me when I woke up today that I'm going to be an American," Mallari said. "It's amazing."

Patterson resident Jaspreet Kaur, a 22-year-old from India, wished she could have become naturalized long ago — before she went to UC Riverside to earn her degree in chemistry.

"Applying to college would have been a lot easier," she said. "I wouldn't have had to fill out so many forms."

An American citizen now, she'll cut her paperwork in half as she seeks a spot in dental school.

There are newbies such as Iris Avila, who arrived in the United States from El Salvador five years ago and began preparing for citizenship at the first possible moment.

"I always planned to become a U.S. citizen," said Avila, who works for California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids at the Stanislaus County Community Services Agency. "It's a great step. I'd been looking forward to this day for a long time."

And exactly one week after the ceremony at one of America's most majestic places, she and the others can celebrate their first Fourth of July as citizens of the country they now call their own.

A patriotic awakening, indeed.

Modesto Bee writer Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.

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