BELEN — “Nothing is more American than apple pie,” laughed Frances Zeller, Belen Harvey House Museum coordinator, during a citizenship ceremony hosted by the museum last week. “We also wanted to give you a little taste of New Mexico.”
Twenty newly-naturalized U.S. citizens, representing 13 different countries, enjoyed homemade apple pie, cherry pie and New Mexican biscochitos, prepared by volunteers of the Belen Harvey House Museum, moments after reciting their oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
“Everyone’s journey for citizenship is different. Some people, it’s five years; some people, it’s three; some people, it’s up to 40 years,” said Michael Smith, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services Albuquerque field office director. “This is a culmination of their journeys. It’s a time they can be happy … A lot of times people get very nervous coming to immigration. This is a time they aren’t supposed to be nervous, so a lot of happiness.”
In order to gain citizenship, candidates must first reside in the United States as a lawful, permanent resident for five years — three if married to another U.S. citizen. Candidates must also pass a test on their knowledge of the English language, U.S. government and U.S. history as well as prove they are of “good moral character subscribing to the principles of the constitution.”
Tevin Stewart, although born on the island country of Trinidad and Tobago, has lived in the United States with his family for 18 years — since he was 6 years old. He now resides in Albuquerque and traveled to Belen for the ceremony.
“I’m the Americanized one in the family,” Stewart said. “Officially, now I am definitely the Americanized one.”
Stewart wanted to pursue U.S. citizenship because he is currently going back to school and working towards becoming an advisor and investigator for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Under an executive order, only U.S. citizens and nationals may be hired for a competitive employment position in the U.S. federal government, with few exceptions to the rule.
“It was kind of hectic,” Stewart said about the process to earn his citizenship. “If anything, the testing for citizenship was pretty funny. I enjoyed a lot of the questionnaires and honestly it’s pretty easy, and everyone is really welcoming here.
“I think New Mexico, out of all the places I have ever visited, New Mexico has one of the most diverse [populations] and a lot of people here are smiling.”
Lydia Carbonera, originally from Spain, had been living in the United States with her husband of five years as a permanent resident, but said her decision to pursue citizenship was a recent one. She also has a young child, who was born in the United States.
“I married one of them and my little one is American, so I wanted to join the club. Also, I was thinking that for him it would be easier,” Carbonera said pointing to her son.
She decided to go through the naturalization process about 10 months ago, which she described as interesting.
“Even him, [my husband], he didn’t know a lot of things. We studied a little bit together,” Carbonera said. “It was really interesting and necessary to really be aware of where you are living.”
Zeller said another naturalization ceremony will be hosted by the Belen Harvey House Museum next month.
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.