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Isael and Oralia Martinez: When I took my oath, I looked at the clock and took note of the time that my dream came true.

November 4, 2020

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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.