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RR: “I’ve been to the Citizenship Oath Ceremony. As many others I volunteered to tell my story on that day. It’s an emotional moment, a milestone for many; a culmination of life-changing events and hard decisions that preceded that day. Mario vaguely remembers the trip to the border.”

Mario: “The way that I remember is we went by land, we went by sea and then we went by land all the way through Mexico.”

RR: “Although he says one detail from the journey stands out.”

Mario: “Being with my mom underneath a bus, where they put the luggage and stuff. There’s no windows, but there was a red light. All I remember seeing was the red light for like the longest time.”

RR: “They applied for asylum followed by years of waiting.”

Mario: “When I was signing my papers, because they make you sign, ‘you gotta sign really good right here, the President is gonna see this.’ I’m like a little kid, I have the worst handwriting. Like I have a lot of pressure to sign a piece of paper.”

RR: “And at the end was denial. The family was granted a ‘voluntary departure,’ which means one has to be out of the United States within a certain timeframe.”

Mario: “We’ve never went back. It was not the nicest area where we lived, it was pretty rough, so one of the outlets that we had was actually going to karate classes.”

RR: “He and his sister ended up representing the USA at the Junior Olympics. Both of them won gold.”

Mario: “But then it got back that you get picked to go and we couldn’t go because we didn’t have papers.”

RR: “And the thread of working hard for something and at the end not being able to enjoy the outcomes – it kept persisting. Like the time when he excelled at the high school exit exam, was granted a scholarship from Governor to go to college.”

Mario: “And I remember typing in, you know, my information and trying to get the scholarship and it just kept saying denied. I sat there, I got really scared, I started looking around because I don’t know if somebody else saw it. And I was worried maybe it was going to call somebody to come get me. I kind of felt embarrassed at some point because having to tell people all the time, well, I’m not here legally. You kind of do live in the shadows a little bit.”

RR: “You face obstacles at every turn, Mario says. But I get it, he adds, and I learned to live with it.”

Mario: “I just, I said we can’t keep doing this. We have to go and revisit our case. So we appealed it, I remember going in front of the judge and the judge is like, oh, this case has been around since like the early nineties. You know what, from this day forward you guys are legal residents of the United States and that was such a relief. The first thing I do is going to apply for FAFSA and apply to ASU again and I got in again.

“I graduated school in 2013. It took years and years, you know, a degree that should have taken four years to do, took me almost eight. Like you want to be at a certain level and you have so many obstacles. And finally getting there. It’s really good, it’s a good feeling. it wasn’t until about October of last year that I finally qualified for the five years as a resident to apply for citizenship. And as soon as, the date to the date that it hit I put my application in right away, I’m like here you go. And I got my interview, I went there. The gentleman, he said: ‘Did you have time to study?’ and my response was: ‘All my life.’ I studied all my life… As of two months ago I became a US citizen.”

RR: “Can you tell me more about the day of the ceremony?”

Mario: “That’s… that’s a good one. That morning actually I went to work with my dad. I remember I was like, man, on the day of my citizenship here I am, cleaning carpets and sweating. So we got done. We’re sitting in that room. The judge comes in, and they’re like: ‘We’d like to ask volunteers to go up here and give their story. As soon as I get up to the podium, the first person I see is my dad. And that just hit me, and I started to choke up and I was telling people: ‘Even on the day of the citizenship I was working with my dad. Early in the morning, my brother is ten years old, he was working with us. And they always said hard work. Hard work and we put in a lot of hard work.

“After I spoke the judge had a few words and he pointed out my speech and said: ‘You know, this is why this country is so great.’

“Sometimes I don’t feel that I can say I’m Guatemalan because I never grew up there. When people ask me: ‘Where are you from?’ I say I am from the United States. And that’s something really, really powerful for me and something that I really cherish, that I can call this country my home.”

music by Dana Boule, Circus Marcus

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova