Maria Rosales and Alex Orihuela Silva were good citizens long before they became citizens. Rosales and Orihuela Silva, along with nine others, swore the oath of citizenship Wednesday morning in front of family and longtime friends.
Rosales came to Juneau in 1998 to be closer to her oldest son — “to be all together,” she said.
“Since the first day I came, (I’m) in love of Juneau,” Rosales said.
She said she appreciates the nature, mountains and the people — she was born in a small town that was peaceful and safe like Juneau, she said.
Leaving behind her family in Mexico and her beautiful home was tough, she said, but she has made a home in Juneau over the years, with a family and as a direct care provider through REACH.
Orihuela Silva has been living in Juneau for 21 years, she said, more than half her life. She came at the invitation of her sister and, like many others, adopted Juneau as her home.
“I was young and my sister asked if I want to come see Alaska,” she said.
She made friends and got married. Her three sons, ages 15, 14 and 9, were born here. Her sister has two children here. She works for Durable Medical Equipment and Bartlett Regional Hospital.
“I grew up in Mexico, but have lived here more than half my life now,” Orihuela Silva said. “Where I was born and my family will always be part of me but I’ve been here so long and have kids here.”
After living in Juneau for so long as residents, becoming a naturalized citizen wasn’t exactly a necessary step, but it was meaningful, though at times quite challenging.
Orihuela Silva said she wasn’t quite sure she would actually become naturalized when she arrived on Wednesday because there had been some trouble with paperwork. Her children were unable to watch her swear the oath, she lamented, with tears welling up.
“They can understand what it means for me and for them that we can be here,” she said. “My children get to have an understanding of what it means to be a citizen.”
Like most citizens, her children were born here, but for Orihuela Silva and so many others, it’s been a long journey to citizenship.
“It’s work and it doesn’t just happen,” she said.
While Orihuela Silva had spent just about a year on her citizenship process, Rosales spent several years working on paperwork and taking classes through SERRC’s Citizenship program. She enjoyed learning about the history, and especially the politics, of the U.S., she said.
She was thankful to have the classes and the support of instructors through the program, she said, especially when things started moving forward with her citizenship application.
“I went to Mexico in December and back on Jan. 21 and my appointment was 23rd or January, so I did not have chance to study,” Rosales said. “Matt (Carpenter) gave a citizenship set from the school to study all night — that why I love Juneau, because always have the same teachers and friends to help you.”
For those born in the country, citizenship was a given; for those who choose citizenship here, the decision is not taken lightly.
Rosales vows to “work as a citizen to help this country to be better everyday.”
And even before citizenship was granted, Rosales, Orihuela Silva and others were part of the community.
“I’m here, do what everybody does,” Orihuela Silva said. “Go to work, pay taxes, clean the garbage from the street.”
But citizenship has its perks: now, Orihuela Silva said, she gets to vote.
The League of Women Voters helped register new citizens outside the federal court house after the ceremony, and Washington Parks was there to help new citizens register for Social Security cards.
The overall atmosphere in the Robert Boochever Federal Courthouse, during and after the ceremony, was one of excitement and happiness as the 11 swore the oath of allegiance and were welcomed as new citizens by United States Magistrate Judge Leslie Longenbaugh.
Also welcoming the new citizens was Sally Smith, representing Alaska’s congressional delegation.
Citizenship isn’t just reciting the oath, Smith said, “It’s living the oath and registering and voting, speaking your mind ... It’s sharing your ideas, sharing your story and infusing your culture into our culture. Together, we are the United States of America.”
Oath of Allegiance
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.