The impact parents make was on full display Tuesday morning when 902 people representing 48 countries became the newest U.S. citizens.
Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Carlos Enrique Estrada Herrera fulfilled his dying mother’s request that he become a U.S. citizen, so the native of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México drove 185 miles from Rosamond to take part in the naturalization ceremony at the Fresno Convention Center.
Minutes later, Poverello House CEO Cruz Ávila paid tribute to his hard-working father, who died in March, for setting an example in helping others.
Both men got emotionally.
“It was a promise to my mom. She wanted me to become a U.S. citizen,” said Estrada Herrera, 59.
The facility maintenance worker for the NASA Neil Armstrong Flight Research Center would have been born a U.S. citizen but he arrived a bit early.
“My mom went to México to visit my grandmother, and she had me early,” recounted Estrada Herrera. “Because of the heat in August, she couldn’t drive me back, so I stayed with my grandma for a while.”
His mother came for him later, and Estrada Herrera went on to graduate from Garfield High School in East Los Ángeles, enlisted in the Air Force at age 18, worked as a plumber, has been married for 31 years, and raised four children who have gifted him 14 grandchildren.
But, he knew one thing was missing from his life: U.S. citizenship.
“You feel pride. You’re an American,” said Estrada Herrera after the ceremony.
He served in Germany and Bosnia, among other countries.
Estrada Herrera and his wife, Melanie, were seated in front of the other new U.S. citizens for the ceremony. Right behind them, daughter Carmen Matsushita and granddaughter Addison Matsushita enjoyed the moment and took video of the moment.
Ávila, the keynote speaker, was born in the U.S. to Mexican immigrants from Zacactecas and Michoacán. Both parents became U.S. citizens.
His father, the oldest of six siblings, worked in the fields and orchards surrounding Hollister. Despite having only a sixth-grade education in México, his dad, said Ávila, proved an inspiration to his family.
His parents, who met as workers at a tomato plant, lived in a little shack where a flat board atop four milk crates served as their bed.
“My dad achieved his American dream by raising his family in the U.S.,” said Ávila. “He worked his entire life as a handyman. Everytime I talked to him about his 401K, he raised his arms and said that’s what he was going to retire on.”
One day, his parents took their two sons to G Street where the Poverello House was housed at the time. Ávila was 7 years old.
“My mom has a recording of my 7-year-old voice saying, ‘You know mom and dad, all these people here, I’ll end up helping one day.’”
That sense of civic responsibility, said Ávila, came from his father.
“He always told me that people should be judged on their work ethic, personal values and respect to others,” he said. “His teachings and experiences lead me in my current life.”
Ávila congratulated the new citizens.
“Becoming a U.S. citizen is the beginning of the unlimited possibilities and the destiny that only you will create for yourselves,” he told them. “Congratulations on your new, amazing and exciting journey as a U.S. citizen.”
There they came from
1. México, 635; 2. India, 61; 3. Philippines, 33; 4. El Salvador, 19; 5. Guatemala, 13; 6. Iran, Laos, 12; 8. Thailand, Vietnam, 11; 10. Yemen, 8. Also: Argentina, 1; Bolivia, 1; Chile, 2; Colombia, 5; Cuba, 3; Ecuador, 1; Honduras, 3; Nicaragua, 1; Perú, 4.