Marolina Montanez was 4 years old, her younger sister Guadalupe just 2 months old, when their family moved from Mexico to Colorado. They have since established lives and families in the United …
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Marolina Montanez was 4 years old, her younger sister Guadalupe just 2 months old, when their family moved from Mexico to Colorado. They have since established lives and families in the United States. Marolina lives in Colorado Springs with her two young children. Guadalupe lives in Castle Rock with her two kids.
A significant difference between their home country and the U.S. is safety, they said. While visiting Mexico six years ago, their father was shot and killed.
“The freedom, the opportunities you have here are not the same there,” Marolina, 31, said.
Alongside nearly 40 other people from 17 countries, the sisters became U.S. citizens at a Sept. 15 naturalization ceremony at James H. LaRue Library in Highlands Ranch.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) hosted the hour-long ceremony, which had about 50 attendees from family members to library staff to county residents who were simply interested in the event.
A committed process
The ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a series of speakers. During an Oath of Allegiance, the new citizens stood with their right hand in the air as they recited a pledge to abide by and support the nation’s laws. Many held a small American flag in their left hand. Then, one by one, they were called to the stage to receive a certificate of citizenship.
Each year, the USCIS welcomes 700,000 to 750,000 citizens during naturalization ceremonies across the U.S., according to the USCIS. To become a U.S. citizen, applicants must meet a set of general guidelines, go through an interview and pass a naturalization exam.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old. They need to have a green card and have lived in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for five years, the USCIS says. They should be literate in English and knowledgeable in U.S. government and history.
The process is worth it, said May Lee, a Lone Tree resident originally from China. She got her U.S. citizenship in 2004 after eight years of preparation.
During the Sept. 15 naturalization ceremony, Lee’s daughter played the cello.
“In my 24 years here, there has never been a moment that I regret my decision to come here,” said Lee, tears welling in her eyes. “I do see we have problems, but compared to what we had… ”
In her home country, freedom of speech was nonexistent, she said. Libraries, like the one she was standing in, were censored.
“I’m just so proud,” Lee said of her U.S. citizenship. “I think this is the best country.”
Libraries celebrate life’s transitions
The location of the ceremony was fitting. Douglas County Libraries offer free one-on-one tutoring in English as a second language and weekly adult conversation groups to practice English. The libraries also host citizenship-preparation classes twice a year.
In the past two years, Douglas County Libraries has hosted three naturalization ceremonies at its locations across the county, according to Tiffany Curtin, adult literacy specialist at James H. LaRue Library, 9292 S Ridgeline Blvd.
“We see ourselves as a hub in the community,” Curtin said. “We want to be part of life celebrations and transitions.”
The Sept. 15 naturalization ceremony welcomed people from Canada, China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Germany, Thailand, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, United Kingdom and Vietnam.
For Curtin, that sends a powerful message to the community.
“We want to raise awareness of the beauty and value of diversity,” she said.
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