Merced

New U.S. citizen has opportunities

Fresno-- Abigail Arenas was sitting in a wheelchair and waving the American flag. She was wearing a white blouse, and her hair was gathered in a ponytail. Her father was seated next to her, also with a U.S. flag in his hands and tears in his eyes.

The two were patiently waiting in the front row of the Fresno Convention Center exhibit hall on Aug. 8 to take part in a naturalization ceremony. Another 726 people representing 46 countries -- including 305 from México -- were seated behind Abigail and her father, waiting for that moment that would change their lives.

However, for the 23-year-old Arenas, that life-changing moment came when her parents discovered their daughter was born with an illness that left her wheelchair-bound the rest of her life.

"My parents brought me here when I was little. I was barely six months old," said Arenas. "There was no medical help in México that could help me with my medical condition, so my parents had no other option than to leave their village in Oaxaca to come to the United States."

Arenas suffers from a rare bone disease that zaps her of strength to walk.

Her father, Bartólomo, a bus driver, said leaving México was the correct decision even though it meant leaving behind loved ones. His wife and children had to stay behind.

"I petitioned the U.S. government with the hope of bringing my daughter here," said Bartólomo. "In México, there is practically no help for persons who have the same medical condition as my daughter. There is no money to help parents pay for medical help or for the medicine they need to buy. I had no other choice but to come to the United States to obtain the necessary medical help. Now I'm happy I did it."

In 1985, he left México with Abigail, then an infant, in his arms.

Arenas, who has been raised far from home, has done so far from her mother and other family members who still live in Oaxaca.

In this country, she has only her father and a 21-year-old brother, yet she has managed to take advantage of all the opportunities available to her.

"The people who are medically impaired are limited in what they can achieve, not only in México but in whatever country around the world," she said. "In México, there are no needed resources to afford the costs associated with a disability or an illness. That's why I'm happy my father brought me here."

Through the years, some of her siblings have also become U.S. citizens. A 26-year-old brother is in the U.S. army and is serving in Afghanistan, while her 21-year-old brother is attending a university with her. Her other two brothers are in Oaxaca with her mother.

"It's impossible to go to school with the disability I have, but it has been a blessing for me. I've been able to do everything I want to do in a this wheelchair. It has not stopped me from fulfilling my dreams, and I don't think people treat me differently. I feel fine," she said.

Last year, she and her brother entered Fresno City College and are taking business administration classes. Arenas hopes to become a business owner in the future.

"I have not thought about what type of business I want to open, but it is definitely something I want to do," said Arenas.

Send e-mail to: cmoreno@vidaenelvalle.com

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