When they woke up last Wednesday morning, Tamara Cúlhuac of Modesto, Luciana Rodríguez of Fresno and María Perales de Núñez of Dos Palos were among millions of immigrants living and working in the United States.
Before the midday sun floated over iconic Half Dome, the three women were Americans.
“This may be one of the most beautiful spots on planet Earth,” Yosemite National Park superintendent Don Neubacher told the 50 soon-to-be citizens. “It belongs to you. The problem is, you have to share it with 300 million other citizens.”
The ceremony at Glacier Point was held to commemorate Citizenship Week. The Aug. 14 ceremony was the eighth time the park has hosted a naturalization event.
Most of the new citizens had never seen the park.
Obviously, it was the first time for 6-day-old Angelina Rodríguez, who mostly slept and fed while her 33-year-old mother took part in the ceremony. Rodríguez had a caesarian.
“This makes it extra special,” said Rodríguez, a mother of three (Ángel, 8, and Angeli, 22 months) originally from Nuevo Urecho, Michoacán, México.
Rodríguez was 4 years old when her parents brought her to the U.S. She graduated from Mendota High School in 2001.
Her husband, José Ángel Rodríguez, became a U.S. citizen in 2008. He is originally from Nochistlán, Zacatecas, México.
Rodríguez hopes that becoming a U.S. citizen will allow her to fulfill her high school dream of becoming a police officer.
Cúlhuac, a 42-year-old Spanish-language instructor, was all smiles during the ceremony. She came to the U.S. from her native México City in 2001. She has three children.
Her husband, Francisco Cúlhuac, became a U.S. citizen in 2000.
“I had the feeling that I belong to this place,” said Cúlhuac about deciding to become naturalized. “It was a very special ceremony.”
For Perales de Núñez, who turned 60 years old two days before the ceremony, figured becoming a U.S. citizen would provide “a better future” for her family. She has three children and 14 grandchildren. She raised her kids as a single parent for 20 years, and is raising two of her grandchildren.
Perales de Núñez migrated from Mexicali, Baja California, México in 1974. She worked for years as a machine operator in Silicón Valley before moving to Dos Palos in the 1980s. She currently works as a greeter at Wal-Mart.
The trip to Yosemite National Park was a first for Perales de Núñez. “It’s beautiful,” she remarked.
“I’m blessed to become a U.S. citizen in this place,” said Perales de Núñez.
Mónica E. Toro, District 22 field director for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, swore in the citizens, of which more than half were from México.
“Each of you has chosen to become a U.S. citizen,” she said. “There is no law that says you must become a U.S. citizen. You made a conscious decision to swear allegiance to the United States of America.”
Denise Vanison, chief of the U.S. CIS Office of Policy and Strategy in Washington, D.C., congratulated the 50 for completing “quite a journey.”
“Telling your immigration story is not always easy,” she said, “because the journey itself is never settled.”
Vanison told them their journey must continue as they become part of the fabric of their new country. That, she said, includes voting, serving on a jury and running for office.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, minutes after his son Roman Flores led the group in the ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ said, “We all leave here as U.S. citizens.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Seng told the new U.S. citizens to add their own spice to the American culture.
“Don’t try to imitate the image of Americans you see on TV or the movies because that doesn’t exist,” said Seng. “They are not real. You are real Americans.”