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Gabriela Araceli Guiterrez and Filemon Para Hernandez: U.S. citizens and new voters

September 21, 2022

Gabriela Araceli Guiterrez and Filemon Para Hernandez met 25 years ago while working in a factory in Michoacan, Mexico. They moved to the US in search of opportunity, raised their family here in Marin, and recently became U.S. citizens. In this interview they detail their incredible journey, ongoing pursuit of educational opportunities, and what citizenship means to their family.  

Tell me about your background and how you came to the United States.

FILEMON:  I am from Michoacan, Mexico. I met my wife Gabriela in Mexico and we were together for two years before getting married and moving to Ciudad Juarez.

It’s funny because I am someone who never wanted to come to the U.S. I studied and worked in Mexico. But, as time went on, our situation in Mexico got more complicated.

My wife and I were working in a factory and from there we had the opportunity to obtain visas. That’s when we decided to move to California. Gabriela was pregnant and she had brothers in Marin. We came to this country in 1999. We decided to stay knowing that we would become undocumented immigrants.

How was the transition for you and your family?

Filemon: We tried to do everything right: pay taxes through ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), get involved with our community and with our kids and their school.

Like any parent, we just wanted a better life for our kids. To have them go to higher education because we didn’t have that opportunity. We are proud to say that our oldest son is a first-generation college graduate and our daughter is about to go off to college this year.

What is the naturalization process like?

GABRIELA: Our lawyer worked on our VISA-U case, helped us to become permanent residents, and let us know about Canal Alliance. Once we met the requirements for staff at Canal Alliance supported us through the process.

FILEMON: Once you’re a green card holder/permanent resident you have to wait five years before applying for citizenship. Just before we were about to hit the five-year mark, we began to look for help. So, we called Canal Alliance. Grace Ozonoff-Richey, Immigration Paralegal, and a DOJ Accredited Representative picked up the phone and let us know that we were still five months out from citizenship eligibility. Once that time passed, Grace called and asked us if we were still interested in becoming citizens. Of course, we said yes.

We made an appointment with Grace and she helped us submit our initial application. She was incredibly helpful during the entire process. Once our application went through, Grace put us in contact with Karla Hernandez-Navarro, our citizenship case manager, so we could take part in the citizenship classes.

It was a little daunting at first because: classes were twice a week for 2 hours a day over 6 months. But once we got started, we became much more comfortable and at ease.

After we completed the first class, I realized I still needed a lot of support, so we enrolled in a second class, which we finished in the Spring of 2022.

GABRIELA: It was incredible to see so many people working together and dedicating their time to help us. It really is a beautiful program. Karla would call to remind us about class and even helped us get an extra tutor that worked with our busy schedules.We both received one-on-one tutoring support and, as soon as we got our interview notice, our tutoring increased from once a week to three times a week until the day of their interview.

What was the day like for you, having the interview, and what does citizenship mean to you?

GABRIELA: On the day of our citizenship interview, Grace and Karla contacted us and asked how it went. We let them know we’re now citizens and that we were going to have our ceremony later that day! We also called our son to share the news. This achievement was not just for us, but for our kids.

Karla, Grace, and everyone else at Canal Alliance, from the teachers to the volunteers, aides and tutors really helped us out. Thanks to the support we received we found out that Canal Alliance is for the entire community. They really do help anyone and everyone.

Filemon is a Spring 2022 graduate of the Construction Skills Certificate Program at College of Marin.

FILEMON: We haven’t really processed it yet. But we know we have done something really important, something that we have dreamed of, something that comes with a lot of responsibility. It is our duty to not only help our family and friends, but our community as well.

When you become a U.S. citizen, you make a commitment to your community – to help those also on their way to becoming citizens and helping those who can’t as well.

What is ahead for you and your family?

GABRIELA:  We now have the opportunity to vote for the good of the Latino community. My next goal is to register to vote. Maybe take some classes in the future. It’s funny because my husband is taking classes right now. He just completed the Construction Certificate Program at Canal Alliance and College of Marin.

FILEMON: It’s true. I love school, I love learning. I have learned a lot in the construction class. My next goal is also to take the ‘Construyendo Mi Negocio’ (Small Business) classes. I want to keep learning.

GABRIELA: I would like to say, thank you for supporting our community and God bless all of you who support our Latinx family. Without you, we wouldn’t know how to take this step.

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