Salvadorian immigrant Carlota Gutiérrez holding her U.S. naturalization certificate.
By Elena Shore
Andrea Acosta, Translated
Despite her advanced age and limited English language skills, Salvadoran immigrant Carlota Gutiérrez passed her citizenship test and is a new U.S. citizen.
With the help of her kids, the 80-year-old grandmother applied to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for citizenship in January 2012 and four months later, on May 23, she got an appointment for the test and interview in her language.
Her family said she had to cut down on her daily Bible readings in order to memorize the 100 questions. She felt blessed to have her interview with a Hispanic immigration agent who was kind and was in touch with her culture.
He asked her the names of her kids, of the first U.S. president and the current president, and how many times she had been married.
“They interviewed me at 9 in the morning, and by 2 in the afternoon, I was in the [citizenship oath] ceremony,” she said recently.
Since she only knows how to say “hi” and “bye” in English, she had to take her oath of citizenship mumbling between her teeth and following along with the sounds. But she was aware that this moment represented an important step in her life.
The news that she had suddenly become a U.S. citizen was a big event for her family and cause for celebration for her 10 children, 20 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. In the middle of the festivities, Carlota admitted, “I asked God so many times to be given citizenship… Since last night I started praying to God and the Virgen de la Paz (Virgin of Peace), the patron saint of El Salvador… I know they were with me in the interview.”
Award for her sacrifice
For Carlota, U.S. citizenship was a kind of recognition of the sacrifices the Salvadoran grandmother had made in her life. She had to face the death of her mother when she was only 11 years old. Later her husband was killed in 1978 and she had to take care of her children – five of whom were minors – all by herself.
Her kids know that Carlota was both mother and father to them in the midst of violent social unrest in her country. The single mother worked cutting cotton in a cotton factory in San Miguel, making $10 a week, and on weekends she sold tamales and bread that she made in a house that had no electrical lighting, according to son Fidel Granados.
Carlota cried and prayed at night, worried about whether she would have anything to feed her children.
“God has always helped me,” she said. “God always hears you.”
As the civil war broke out in El Salvador, Fidel was the first of her children to take the step of emigrating. The rest of her kids followed him north.
“At the beginning, my mom would cry, worried because she hadn’t heard from me. Then she cried out of joy when she got my letters,” he said, recalling the difficult time.
The tireless fighter decided to sell her house in her native village to move to Washington, D.C., in 1989 with all of her children and grandchildren. It was a decision she didn’t regret because she loves the United States.
“I like everything about this country. Living here is a marvelous experience,” she said, putting her life in perspective. “My heart is half Salvadoran and half Gringo,” she said, laughing.
Taking the citizenship test in Spanish
Applicants for U.S. citizenship may be exempt from the English language requirement if they are over 50 or have lived in the United States as a permanent resident for 20 years. They can also take the test in their native language if they are over 55 and have had a green card for 15 years.
Even if they are eligible for an exemption, they still have to take the civic education exam. They can take it in Spanish only if they aren’t proficient enough in speaking English to do the interview in English. In that case, they should bring an interpreter for the interview.
If an applicant is over 65 and has been a permanent resident for at least 20 years, she will be given special consideration for the civic education requirement.
Applicants have two opportunities to take the exam or answer thorough questions related to the application for naturalization (form N-400). If their responses in the initial interview are not satisfactory, they will have to retake that portion of the exam (English or civic education) within 60 to 90 days of the first interview.
Immigrants now have a new tool to help them become American citizens: an interactive online resource for aspiring citizens to prepare for the exam.
“Preparing For The Oath: U.S. History And Civics For Citizenship,” which combines videos and multimedia activities, is a way to think over the 100 basic questions for the exam.
For more information about citizenship classes in the Washington, D.C. area, go to the citizenship workshops offered by the non-profit organization CARECEN, located at 1460 Columbia Road NW, Washington D.C. or call (202) 328-9799.
Those interested can also get information from the Spanish Catholic Center at 1618 Monroe St. NW, Washington, D.C. (202-939-2400) and Diamond Ave. Third Floor, Gaithersburg, MD 20877 (301-740-2523).
This was printed in the October 20, 2013 - November 2, 2013 Edittion