Jose Arturo Torres: “The time will come when you are able to apply for legal permanent residency and, eventually, for citizenship. Be ready!”
I was born in a small town called Lerdo, in the state of Durango, Mexico. You could travel from end to end in about 15 minutes. I came to California in 1990 with my whole family: my wife, my two little girls, and my son. My oldest daughter was eight, my younger daughter was five, and my son was four. We came to visit on vacation and crossed into Tijuana on Christmas day. I told my wife that we were only coming for 15 days of vacation. Fifteen days became 30 years. I wanted to live a calmer life with my family, and the political and economic situation in Mexico was very difficult.
During our visit, our friends and my brothers told me, Arturo, you know the bicycle business. Why don’t you try to open a shop? I didn’t start my business right away. First, I began working in a restaurant washing dishes. After work, I would look for recyclable things that I found in the street, like aluminum scrap, to sell and save money. With that savings, and the money I made as a dishwasher, I managed to raise about a thousand dollars. It was the small amount of capital I needed.
I told my brother, “We’re going to start the bicycle business. We will buy bicycle parts and begin to work on bikes and sell them at swap meets.” But my brother didn’t agree. He said, “We will start this, and then you’re going to leave me. If you go back to Mexico, what will I do with the business? I don’t know the bike business.” But the business was already slowly growing, growing, growing. We began to buy the bicycle parts—axles, bearings, tires, and all the things we needed to begin. Eventually, my wife and I became legal permanent residents. In 2020 our residency was going to expire, and we had to renew our documents. We could have used a lawyer to help us, but it was too expensive. We have the bicycle business, but we still didn’t have enough money to pay the fee.
Friends suggested that I go to a meeting at Long Beach Community College, where Centro CHA was giving a presentation. That was the first time that I learned about this organization and its purpose to serve the community. I felt comfortable because no one was interested in my religion, or whether I could pay or not. They were just interested in helping me become a citizen. They will help anyone. That was why I decided to apply for U.S. citizenship. Centro CHA didn’t charge us anything and they helped us figure out that we qualified for a fee waiver. They saved us a lot of money! In the same center they also had classes about citizenship. I took the course for two months.
Prior to the interview I took English classes at the community college for about three years. My wife learned English through the children and grandchildren. We were very nervous about the exam because we didn’t know what to expect. My wife became a citizen in February of 2020, and I was scheduled to take my test in April of 2020. But because of the pandemic I was rescheduled to August.
When I went to take the civics test, I tried to stay calm. The officer asked me questions, and I knew the answers, so I knew that I was passing. I had used YouTube to practice which helped me a lot. Next, we reviewed my application together. He asked me when I entered the United States, and that’s when I had some trouble. I told him 1990, but I had actually filed for citizenship during the amnesty in 1986. The system had the record. I had tried then, but my application was denied. That made me nervous, because I had not remembered applying and I didn’t include it in the application. The officer knew that I was nervous, so he walked me through the dates, and he let me explain. I had tried to come to the United Sates then, but my dad was sick, and I went back to Mexico and never returned until 1990. I knew that I had to tell him the truth, but I had forgotten about it. It’s important to save your records.
Afterward, the officer said, “Congratulations, you passed your citizenship interview.” Then he told me were going downstairs for the oath ceremony. There were 10 other people there. We waited around 15 minutes and then we took our oath and got our citizenship certificates. To be honest, I felt tremendous emotion. It also brings peace to have a document like that. It’s a sacrifice; we studied hard and it can be difficult to get. Now, having that piece of paper, we feel tranquility.
The document is important. It lets me know that I have the rights of any other American in this country. It gives us peace to know that we can vote and that we have more rights. I respect the constitution. I took my oath in August a year ago, and I voted for the first time in a presidential election. I couldn’t believe it! I felt so lucky to vote for a president of the United States! We voted by mail. At first, we had a hard time reading and understanding the questions on the ballot. So, my wife and I discussed the options and filled them out together. Our children were very happy. We got together and celebrated as a family.
I have six siblings who still live in Lerdo. When I visit them now as a U.S. citizen, I feel much calmer. When you talk to the officers at the airport, they ask if you are a citizen. If you are a U.S. citizen you walk through, if you are an LPR they take a while to check your documents.
My store, Torres Bike Shop, now has two locations in Long Beach, CA. It is a family business. I work here, my wife works here. We’ve worked here for 24 years, 360 days out of the year. Even though the pandemic hurt everyone, we have a good life. We felt the support of the community. In one year, our business has come back.
I would tell legal permanent residents that resources exist. Especially for those who don’t have the money, there are centers like Centro CHA that really help the community. Language skills should not be a problem. I know that there are community colleges that teach English and there are citizenship classes at places like Centro CHA. My wife, my two daughters, and myself are now U.S. citizens and my son is in the process of applying for his citizenship. I want to advise everyone who doesn’t yet have their documents in order, to get ready, pay taxes, uphold good moral character. The time will come when you are able to apply for legal permanent residency and, eventually, for citizenship. Be ready!
Special thanks to Josefina Cruz-Molina of Centro CHA for translation services.