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Yosemite hosts citizenship affair

YOSEMITE VALLEY -- Romina Pasten was married at Yosemite Valley National Park, gave birth there to her first baby 10 months ago, and works there.

Last Friday, the Chilean native cemented her roots deeper into the national park when she joined 31 other foreign-born residents in taking the oath of United States citizens.

"I fell in love with Yosemite the first time I visited," said Pasten following the special ceremony at Glacier Point, where new American citizens posed for photos with the backdrop of Half Dome. "I keep thanking God that I have the luck to live and work here."

Pasten, an engineer with a park contractor, said becoming a U.S. citizen will help her work for the federal government. Her husband, Jeff Pirog, works in a Yosemite helicopter crew that performs rescue operations and firefighting.

Pasten, 31, came to the U.S. in 2001 to learn English "because it was important for me. I fell in love with an American."

After returning to Chile for two years, she returned to the U.S., where she gave birth to Sophie.

Becoming a U.S. citizen, she said, is like adding a country and not losing her homeland.

That thought is contrary to that of Luz Zacarías, a 42-year-old Lebec resident.

"I came here with the desire to work," said Zacarías, who left El Jocotillo Villa Canales, Guatemala in 1989.

Zacarías, a private chef, said there is no country like the United States.

"I have been a resident of this country ever since I got here," said Zacarias in Spanish. "It's OK to become a U.S. citizen."

Zacarías -- whose husband, Ramiro, also became a U.S. citizen last Friday -- said American citizenship is the only way "to become a part of this country, and to have the vote necessary for our future and that of our children."

Her husband, who came to the U.S. from his native Jiquilpán, Michoacán, México, was among a dozen Mexican natives who became U.S. citizens.

"At least we can now help make better decisions for the country," said Ramiro, a carpenter. "I feel like I've already left my roots behind."

Turlock's José Luis Castañeda, 57, has worked in the fields since arriving from Jacona, Michoacán, México in the late 1980s.

"I became a U.S. citizen to be able to vote and to be able to participate in politics," said Castañeda.

Now, he is hoping other family members will take the same step.

Speakers at the ceremony, which was held in recognition of Citizenship Day and Constitution Week, focused on the new responsibilities of the U.S. citizens.

"Each of you reinforces our country's proud legacy as a country of immigrants," said Lori Scialabba, deputy director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who flew in from Washington, D.C.

The citizenship process, said USCIS district director Susan Curda, allows "people from other places to be a part of this country."

There were 269 special ceremonies held for 25,000 new U.S. citizens during Constitution Week.

Send e-mail to: jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

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