Translated from Spanish by Alphonso Franco, Outreach Coordinator at Proyecto Inmigrante

Isael Martinez: I first came to the United States when I was 17 years old from a small town in Mexico. There were no jobs or opportunities there. I was the oldest of seven children, two brothers and five sisters, and I was their only economic support. I had to work so that I could send money back to my family. I came to Texas and I did yard work. I mowed lawns, I cleaned sidewalks, I did maintenance work. I saved a little money and three years after I got here, when I was 20 years old, I went back to Mexico. The little bit of money I had ran out, and I was about to return to Texas, but then I met Oralia. I proposed to her and asked her to immigrate with me.

Oralia Martinez (3rd from left) celebrates after her oath ceremony with Isael (right), their son (left), and his family.
(Photo courtesy of Martinez Family)

Oralia Martinez: We were married in December of 1985 and we left for Texas in May. I was 17 years old. I left my mother and my brothers. I was coming to the U.S. to start a new life with my new husband—the man I loved. In this country there are lots of job opportunities. We were looking for a better life for our family.

But it was very difficult when we first came. I had to wait a long time to see my family in Mexico again. Isael was eligible for legal status through the 1986 amnesty law and he got his permanent residence. He petitioned for me and I became a lawful permanent resident in the 1990s. I got my work permit right afterward. Now I work in a school cafeteria for the Dallas School district. We only have one child. Unfortunately, God didn’t bless us with more. But we are very thankful for our son. He tells us all the time how happy he is that he was born in this country. He has a life that he could not have anywhere else in the world.

I was so young when I came to this country. I felt that I was from here, that this is my country. But I always felt something was missing. I was scared of the government. I worried, that with no warning, they could take away my freedom. That I couldn’t stay here.

Isael Martinez: I wanted to become a U.S. citizen because I was concerned that the law would change, and the government would make a law preventing everyone from renewing their green cards or becoming U.S. citizens. I also wanted to be able to vote. I always wanted to have my voice heard. We found out about Proyecto Inmigrante, through our church, Lady of Lourdes, in Dallas. They were helping a lot of people.

Oralia Martinez: Proyecto Inmigrante was holding a workshop and my green card was about to expire. I dragged Isael to the workshop. They helped me apply for citizenship. I applied first and then my husband because it was $725 dollars, we couldn’t afford to do it at the same time.

Isael Martinez: We will always be grateful to them. They filled out our applications for free.

Oralia Martinez: We didn’t try to get a fee waiver for the application. Thank God my husband was always working, and we had a little money saved for emergencies.

Isael Martinez: Before we started the application process, we took ESL classes. We decided that we were going to do this, and we supported one another. Our son is married with a family, so we didn’t get any help from him. He is 33 years old and has a life of his own.

Oralia Martinez: I did everything in English. I practiced by myself. My entire interview was in English. I read in English and I wrote in English. But before I took the test, the first thing I did was I prayed to God. I asked Him to take away my nerves, and to open my mind. When I went to the interview everything was so smooth, so clear. I understood everything that they said. I answered everything correctly. There was no language barrier. I believe that God allowed me to pass everything, to have my voice heard through voting, and to stay here in the United States as a citizen. It was beautiful.

Isael Martinez: When I went to my interview, the officer asked, “Are you ready? This is your chance.” When I finished, he told me that I passed everything and that I would get the notice for my oath ceremony in two weeks. I got my notice in one week. When I took the oath, I remember they told us to stand up. I looked at the clock and took note of the time that my dream came true.

Afterward I hugged my son and my grandchildren. They asked if I was already a U.S. citizen. I told them I was. I began to feel lighter. A huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. Now I can travel without worrying that someone might take this away from me. I had carried that worry for so many years. I was afraid they could take away my green card. I’m no longer afraid of being deported. I can come out of the house without worrying about being stopped by the police. Now, if they ask me for my papers, I can say I am a U.S. citizen.

Isael Martinez becomes a citizen 38 years after he first came to the U.S.
(Photo courtesy of Martinez Family)

Oralia Martinez: When I finally became a U.S. citizen, I was happy—very, very happy. No one could take that away from me. After the oath ceremony my son and grandchildren were there hugging me. It was very emotional. I felt something indescribable.

I always tell people that if I can do it, they can do it too. I was thankful that Proyecto Inmigrante answered all of my questions and guided me through the process. I now give my study materials to anyone I know who needs to apply for citizenship, and I refer them to Proyecto Inmigrante. I tell everyone—at my job, when I walk in the park, on Facebook. I tell them not to renew their green card, just apply for citizenship. I pushed and pushed for my son’s mother-in-law to apply for citizenship too. She has been a permanent resident for 20 years and now she will go to her oath ceremony any day.

Isael Martinez: I became a United States citizen because I love this country. This was my dream. There’s no better country in the world. It has given me more than I ever expected. I have a house, and a new car. Now, I’m not afraid of dying because I know that my family will be taken care of if anything happens to me. My son has a better life than he would have had in Mexico. He is an electrician who works with the electric company in Texas. He has a house and a ranch. Becoming a citizen was a beautiful experience. I can be out of the shadows.

When I voted for the first time, I felt powerful. I wanted to elect someone who could help out our poor community, our Hispanic community. I can have my voice heard. Voting is something that we all have to do. I always tell people to vote.

Oralia Martinez: I was happy to vote for the very first time. I was 50 years old. I had never voted before in my life, not even in Mexico. And after I voted, I told the world. I wore the sticker that said, “I voted today.” And I showed it off to everyone. I wish everyone could share that experience.