Longtime Craig resident receives U.S. citizenship
December 23, 2008
Alvaro Landa, 34, straddles the space between two worlds.
Dressed in a long, blue work coat and wearing a pair of safety glasses Friday, Landa looked much like other employees at NAPA Auto Parts in Craig.
But, until recently, he didn’t have what many of his co-workers and fellow community members have had since birth: U.S. citizenship.
That changed Dec. 18. At a ceremony in Grand Junction, Landa, along with 18 other people from 10 countries, took the final step in making America home.
Landa now has an official document from the federal government granting him rights that were denied to him during the 29 years he’s lived in Craig.
“In my heart, I’ve always considered myself a U.S. citizen,” he said. “This just makes it official.”
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But, in his estimation, receiving citizenship doesn’t mean he has to disavow his culture or his homeland. Landa also has deep roots in Mexico, the nation he and his family left in 1979.
And he has no intention of letting those ties wither now that he’s officially become an American citizen.
“I’ve lived in (the U.S.) for most of my life,” he said, adding that he’s lived in Craig since he was 5 years old. “This is the way of life I know.”
But “I’m proud of who I am and my heritage.”
Landa’s path to citizenship wasn’t easy.
He began the process in 1992, when he was granted a work visa. Later, he obtained his temporary residence. In 2003, he was granted permanent residence. Per federal law, Landa had to wait five years before he could apply for citizenship.
The process didn’t end there.
In addition to getting fingerprinted, Landa had to pass an English verbal and written test.
He also had to prove he knew some basic facts about the country that had been his home most of his life. He faced multiple questions on American history, including the significance of the American flag’s stars and stripes, and the original 13 colonies.
After the process was over, gaining citizenship held rewards, for Landa and his family.
He now has the right to vote and the responsibility to serve jury duty when summoned.
Landa said he looks forward to exercising the former privilege in upcoming elections.
As for jury duty – well, that’s another issue.
“It’s like getting your teeth pulled, I guess,” he said.
Landa’s two eldest daughters, Abigail, 15, and Jerzey, 7, are both American-born and, as such, are U.S. citizens by birth. But his youngest daughter, Maya, 17 months, was born in Mexico.
When Landa became a U.S. citizen last week, Maya was granted citizenship, too.
Landa didn’t wait for a document granting his citizenship to begin contributing to his community.
Since 2007, he’s been a part-time firefighter with Craig Fire/Rescue.
In the past, he’s been a Boys & Girls Club of Craig board member and has offered his translation services to the Moffat County School District.
He’s a founding board member for Integrated Community, a local multicultural group.
His dual role as a longtime American resident and Mexican native allows him to bridge the gap between members from both backgrounds, he said.
“Me becoming an American (citizen) doesn’t mean I’m not a Mexican anymore,” he added.
Landa’s experience in both native and Hispanic communities caught the attention of John Ponikvar, NAPA Auto Parts owner, in 1994.
Ponikvar was looking for an employee who could speak Spanish and English.
He found Landa, who was then 20 years old.
Landa proved to be a valuable employee, Ponikvar said.
But, perhaps even more importantly, Ponikvar considers Landa an example to other people who have adopted the U.S. as their home.
“Not only is he happy to be here and be able to raise his family here, but he wants to make it better for everyone else around him, too,” Ponikvar said.
Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or email@example.com