On the special day devoted to the nation’s veterans, 94 immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens in a special ceremony recognizing Veterans Day and those who have laid down their lives in the U.S. military.
The immigrants and their supporters gathered at the Clovis Memorial District on Nov. 9 and heard from American veterans. Retired Lt. Col. Lorenzo Ríos served as the keynote speaker and hailed the country’s veterans, while welcoming the new citizens from 14 countries.
Sixty-five of the new citizens were from México, with the next largest number (seven) coming from the Philippines.
José Castillo, 43, is an Army veteran. He stood at attention during the national anthem then heard the words of Ríos and Navy veteran Jack King.
“I’ve always thought the United States as my country. I was born in México, but everything that I have is because of the United States. I’m proud to have served, and proud to be in this ceremony,” said Castillo, a 1992 graduate of Dos Palos High School.
Castillo served in the U.S. Army from 1992-99.
Castillo was born in Jalisco, México, and was brought to the U.S. as a child.
“I married Guadalupe Carranza, and I have five girls,” added Castillo.
The couple’s children range in age from five years to 21.
Castillo and his family to visit the Room of the Fallen, a garden dedicated to fallen soldiers complete with memorials of the soldiers.
Ríos, also the CEO of the Clovis Veterans Memorial, abruptly stopped the proceedings prior to the start of the national anthem and ordered the color guard to the stage in a presentation of the American banners. Officials of the guard had been standing with banners on a walkway of the auditorium.
“I consider myself American of Mexican descent. I will carry America first because America is what gave me the opportunity to grow up free. With the opportunity to be the migrant worker in Mojado, el campesino. And have the opportunity to dream and achieve as long as I was willing to work,” said Ríos.
Ríos served in the Army and Marines. In his 23 years of service, he’s was stationed in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ríos, who was recently criticized for his support of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, is a naturalized citizen from Colima, México. Ríos was also a former lecturer and commander of the Fresno State Military ROTC Bulldog Battalion.
The naturalization ceremonies honoring the holidays, such as Veterans Day, hold a special meaning for Fresno immigration field director Lynn Q. Feldman.
“It’s hard for me to talk about it because it means so much,” said Feldman, who escaped as a refugee from Vietnam.
“Being that I was a refugee back in 1970s leaving Vietnam, a country that did not want us to a country that embraced us, embraced my family, have given us so many opportunities. And now to allow me to represent this great country as a field office director, it’s an honor.”
“This represents a lot for me. For a long time, I’ve wanted to become a citizen of this country,” said Gerardo Moreno Torres, 60, from Michoacán, México, who now lives in Madera.
“I’ve been here 40 years now. I worked in the fields. I think it’s a big celebration.”
Torres has been married to Sylvia Avalos for 33 years. They have seven children, five boys and two females. Torres was joined by his wife, one daughter and father-in-law at the ceremony.