DOWNTOWN--Last Friday morning, at approximately 10:15, Edwin Reyes Espinoza raised his hand and became a citizen of the United States.  Over 500 people witnessed the event at the Convention Center as 153 people from 42 different countries recited the oath that finalized the citizenship process.  

Those who frequent the Flying Star on Central Ave. or the Cosmo Tapas Restaurant know his face.  Edwin is one of the hardest working people in the world, holding down two jobs and putting a lot of effort into both of them.  He never seems to stop moving.

The Larger Family
Four of us who are regular early morning customers at the Flying Star attended the naturalization ceremony.  We are all part of a larger family.  We talk together almost every morning, and know each other by name.  So when Edwin's ceremony came, there was no question that all of us would go.

Edwin had others in the audience.  His sister, her husband, and another Filipino couple were there.  Leo, his manager from Cosmo Tapas was there with his wife Gina Marselle…as well as Melissa Fender, a manager from the Central Ave. Flying Star.  And we were there:  Bob Martin, Wayne Bower, Sam Pillsbury, and Yours_Truly.

I Stopped Myself
But I must say, I was surprised by the size of the crowd.  Apparently around two hundred people each month go through the citizenship ceremony here in Albuquerque.  It seemed that about half the applicants came from Mexico; the rest were from all over the world:  France, China, Cameroon, and dozens of other countries near and far.

And absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the emotional nature of the event.  I did not cry, but only because I stopped myself.  Families were changed that Friday morning.  The lives of both the living and the yet unborn were changed forever as we stood there in downtown Albuquerque's Convention Center.


A Different History
It wasn't the ceremony which put that lump in my throat.  A federal bankruptcy judge presided over the ceremony.  A lady from his church spoke briefly about "volunteerism."  President Obama said a few prerecorded words on a video display.  No, it was something that everybody who was there already knew:  those families would never be the same.  Their children, their grandchildren, their children generations from now would have a different history because of what happened that morning.

This was not fiction; this was not a political pronouncement; this was not "reality TV."  This was Life itself, playing out around family tables, in night classes, and now in a second-story hall in the East Complex.  Sometimes we can change the future…Edwin did.

The Bottom of a Ship
Nobody knows what the future holds when embarking on an adventure this big.  My own grandmother came to America in the bottom of a ship from Sweden.  She was a teenage maid to a passenger above decks.  Sam Pillsbury told me one of his ancestors came here rather than being tried for "crimes and misdemeanors" against the English Crown in the middle of the 17th century.  What a multi-generational journey they started!

What a Morning
And Edwin Reyes Espinoza, posing with friends and relatives at the end of the ceremony, looking off into the future of a new country, having passed tests on its language, politics, people, and history…Edwin Reyes Espinoza now becomes a living part of those things he studied.  Congratulations Edwin!  All the best.  

What a morning.  What a life.  And what an honor to have witnessed it.

Views: 379

Comment by Adelita on January 29, 2013 at 12:03pm

Johnny...what a wonderful experience and a wonderful story.  Thank you. 

Comment by Monica on January 29, 2013 at 3:56pm

I'm glad you shared this with us. It's very touching.

Comment by Clifton Chadwick on January 29, 2013 at 5:53pm

My ex was naturalized several years ago - thanks for bringing back those wonderful memories.

Comment by Michelle Meaders on January 30, 2013 at 12:20am

I've been there for the League of Women Voters. In the receiving line afterward, we hand them a Voter Registration form.  Did you notice that one of the songs they sing is "This Land is My Land"?  The program doesn't credit Woody Guthrie, though.

Comment by K on January 30, 2013 at 9:04am

Johnny, another great story about something many of us are unaware.  Many of us take for granted our citizenship. Yet for many would be citizens, such as Edwin, the opportunity of becoming a citizen is a wonderful experience that changes lives.  It exemplifies how many undocumented people in this country live their lives; hard working, law abiding, and contributing members of society.  The opportunity for citizenship for ALL to achieve hopefully will happen soon.

By the way, I always felt that Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" is the better choice for our National Anthem instead of "God Bless America".  Nice to know that it is sung at the program.

Comment by Margaret Randall on February 3, 2013 at 8:30am

Congratulations, Edwin! Wish we could have been there.

Comment by Izquierdo on February 4, 2013 at 10:41am

Bienvenidos, Edwin Reyes. This is indeed an overlooked ceremony. The brief TV coverage from time to time does not do justice to the size, emotion, scope and complexity of these events. The news media should cover them hard, especially local electronic and newsprint publications like the Alibi and Duke City Fix. The daily just doesn't seem to understand what readers today want. Even in the special editions forplaces like Rio Rancho they fall short. Newspapers in towns like Socorro, Magdalena, Carrizozo, Las Vegas, seem to know instinctively how to find nuggets of news and please their readers. Maybe it's easier in small cities where everyone knows everybody. But I think of the stories that never get covered, like the pie cooking contests at the state fair, a new feature at a museum.  

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