When Raúl Moreno looked at a sea of 523 immigrants waiting to become U.S. citizens last month at the Fresno Convention Center, he saw himself.
The retired educator from Fresno State who helped thousands of immigrants (documented and undocumented) unlock their potential through education recalls taking part in a similar naturalization ceremony 27 years ago.
“I am a proud immigrant citizen of the United States,” said Moreno, who devotes his time full-time to the Education and Leadership Foundation, a non-profit that not only helps immigrant students but also provides assistance in the naturalization process. “I’m very proud to see each one of you fulfill a dream.”
Moreno, the keynote speaker at the monthly naturalization ceremony, got into education by accident. His father was a bracero who would leave his family in México, go work in the fields of the San Joaquín Valley, and return home.
“I grew up waiting for my father to arrive. That one day he came from El Norte and I only saw him for a few days until he went away again.”
That changed in 1974 when his father summoned the family to travel with him. Moreno wanted to be a farmworker like his father.
“I was picking tomatoes. I was picking figs. I was picking grapes,” he recalled.
His life changed in 1974 when he was riding a bicycle and a car ran him over. He lost his eyesight.
“I could no longer be a proud farmworker like I used to be,” Moreno told the crowd.
“I remember the words of my father: ‘You have no choice but to go to school.’ So I did. That’s when I discovered how great the United States of America is.”
What makes the country great, he continued, is that everyone has the opportunity to get an education. “That is what I love about this country.”
Moreno got help in school from special education and migrant education programs.
“By the time I got to college I was a little bit wiser and assertive,” he said.
Moreno has gone back to his home country, but it’s not the same.
“I love México but, man, it’s so difficult to walk over there. The sidewalks are all limited,” he said to laughter. “I can hardly walk in México.
“I love México but I miss the United States when I go to México. Here, everything is nice and even. People can walk, and people can move around in wheelchairs.”
Moreno encouraged the new citizens to embrace their new country.
“Be proud and represent yourself, your family. Bring your family values to this country. Contribute to this country,” he said.
Immigrants, said Moreno, contribute “integrity, tolerance, patience, hard work, sacrifice” and values like helping “those that truly need you regardless of their color or who they are.”
He also told them to “be ready for change” by registering to vote and learning as much about the political process as possible.
Where they came from
1. México, 285; 2. India, 62; 3. Philippines, 37; 4. El Salvador, 18; 5. Laos, 14. Also: Chile, 1; Colombia, 4; Guatemala, 3; Honduras, 2; Perú, 3.