Working hard to become a citizen
MARTHA AND ROGELIO VARQUEZ became citizens 22 years after arriving from Mexico.
Born in Mexico and endlessly proud of their heritage, Rogelio and Martha Varquez nevertheless know that Sonoma is their home.
They came to California 22 years ago in search of a better life and they found it. Now the paperwork's been pushed, the test tackled, English is almost easy and they are new citizens of the United States of America.
They've reached the goal that once seemed insurmountable and what they want now is to be an inspiration. They tell their Latino friends who have not yet tried, "You can do it, too," and if they see a hint of interest add, "We'll help you." They learned every answer to every one of the potential 100 questions on the citizenship test, and they stand ready to tutor others willing to take it on.
The Varquezes say that if you are working and have had a green card for five years, citizenship is completely within reach. Practice English, study the questions and you will be home, forever, in the land of the free. They are not naïve about admitting that getting a green card is the highest hurdle, the one they jumped in 2005.
That's when they were grilled about their life, and for everything they were doing correctly they were then asked to prove it. "Show me the papers," they were told. Martha rattles off a litany of lifestyle investigations they sailed through: Do you have work permits? Do you pay taxes? Are you on welfare? Are your children in school and doing well? Have you been in trouble with the police? Armed with tax returns, report cards and no police records, they earned their green cards easily.
Rogelio and Martha met in their hometown of Peto in the Yucatan. Martha was carrying flowers into the church and Rogelio stopped to help her. Love was planted. Rogelio, who was working in Cancun at the time, came to visit Martha at her parents' home once every two weeks for a year. Then one Sunday he said, "I am going to California." Martha said she thought he was crazy but he told her he had to go and try. She told him, "If you don't come back, I will find another boyfriend." He left and found a job in construction, then went back to Mexico and married Martha on Dec. 17, 1988. A month later they came back to California together. "My dream came true," Martha said, although she would not see her family again for more than 15 years.
Now Rogelio has a good job at a hotel in Marin, where he works very long hours, arriving home at 9:30 every evening to his family and Martha's wonderful cooking. They have three children. Jeanie, 20, finished community college and is headed to UC Santa Cruz on a scholarship in the fall. Matey, 19, attends SRJC, and Rogelio Jr., 13, goes to Altimira. Rogelio told his parents, "I want to take the test like you did and become a citizen, too," and they explained, "You were born here. You are an American."
That's what makes Martha happiest. "Everything I do, I do for my children," she said. "I tell them, 'I learned English for you. I learned to drive for you. Now I am a citizen for you.'" She never lets them out of the house without fixing them breakfast, preferably a hot one, and tells them always, "Keep going to school. That's the best thing."
Since 2003, Martha has been working at Lucky supermarket, usually in the flower and produce department, sometimes as a checker. She enjoys her job and her co-workers. "We try everyday to go and do our best. We work as a team and we love it," she said. At first, she was shy, worried that her English was not the best, but her language skills have improved and so has her confidence.
She enjoys helping the customers and exchanging pleasantries. That is how she met Alice Rodgers. One day Alice invited Martha for coffee and a chitchat, and over time they became dear friends. It was Alice who motivated Martha and Rogelio to become citizens, adding incentive by promising to pay their fees. "She told me 'You have to do it. If you do it other people will see that they can do it, too'"
Now that they have been citizens for a few months, they find that their friends are interested. They ask what they have to do, how to get a copy of the questions, and Rogelio and Martha do all they can. They reach out, as others have reached out to them.
When Martha's daughters were in preschool, she met Liz Rattger. Martha was struggling with English at the time, and Liz said, "I'll come to your house at lunchtime. You feed me and I'll teach you English." More recently, when Rogelio was studying for the citizenship exam everyday at lunch, his friend, Brian Roberts, would practice with him: How many stars on the American flag and what do they mean? Who is the chief of the U.S. military?
When it came time for the test in San Francisco, Brian went with them. They have been blessed with good friends, and they are good friends in return.
Rogelio said recently someone asked him where he was from and for the first time he didn't know what to say. "I had to stop and think. Then I said, 'I'm American.'"
Martha nods and smiles. "Here I have everything. It is the best way here for me and for my kids, too." And for her next goal? Most important, she wants all of her children to graduate from college. And then she has another goal. "My dream now is to one day get my house. A big house." Rogelio, his dimples showing, looks at Martha with affection as she continues. "Every time when I make my goal? I do it!"
Congratulations Rogelio and Martha. Dios te bendiga.