100-year-old takes citizen oath
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rod Ohira
Maria Soledad Sarabia Lagareta is a healthy and alert 100-year-old woman who enjoys partying and can still touch her toes.
And today she's officially a 1-day-old American citizen.
Lagareta, who celebrated her century-mark birthday last Thursday, was naturalized in a special fourth-floor ceremony yesterday at the Federal Building before U.S. District Judges David Ezra and J. Michael Seabright.
Sixty-eight others took the oath of allegiance to become American citizens in a separate ceremony.
In congratulating Lagareta, Ezra told her she represents the best this country has to offer and praised her for teaching her sons, Roland and Bruce Lagareta, to be good Americans. The judge then added, "I'm sure the president will excuse you from military duty," drawing laughter from the new citizen.
Lagareta came to the U.S. from Mazatlan, in Mexico's Sinaloa state, in 1927 with her two sisters after the deaths of their parents. She lived in North Hollywood, Calif., until moving to Hawai'i in 1976 to be with her sons. Lagareta lives at Manoa Gardens Elderly Housing Complex and until recently, she regularly caught the bus to shop in Chinatown.
She understands English but does not have enough command of the vocabulary to converse. So with son Roland serving as interpreter, Lagareta explained yesterday that although she didn't feel the greatest urgency to become an American citizen, she decided to pursue naturalization so she could vote in this year's elections.
When asked whom she'll be voting for in the fall for governor, she responded: "Linda."
She first met Gov. Linda Lingle in 1997 and said she would have voted for her in 1998, when Lingle lost her initial bid for governor. After another four years lapsed and Lagareta still had not made strides toward gaining the right to vote, she decided she would not let yet another four years slide by.
University of Hawai'i Board of Regents Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta, Roland's wife, recalls an evening a couple of years ago when her mother-in-law accepted a ride home from the governor.
"As soon as she got in the car, she asked the governor if she spoke Spanish," Kitty Lagareta said. "The governor answered, 'Poquito,' meaning a little. The whole way home, she spoke to the governor in Spanish and the governor kept nodding."
Lingle was among about 100 partygoers, including guests from California and Australia, who gathered in Manoa on Sunday to celebrate Maria Lagareta's birthday.
Through her son, Lagareta said she didn't feel a need to become a citizen because she wanted to ensure that her sons would grow up not forgetting their native culture. "We spoke only Spanish at home," Roland Lagareta said.
When she finally applied for citizenship, her decision came with a few surprises for her sons.
First, said Ronald Lagareta, "She had all her documentation (organized)." Pulling out her still-pristine 1927 passport from a plastic bag that also contained her birth certificate, he added: "That's the same way she kept newspaper clippings to show us when we were growing up."
Having the documentation in order made the citizenship process a snap, he said.
A second surprise came when her sons learned their mother's first name is Maria, rather than Soledad. So that's how it's written on her citizenship document.
She still enjoys reading newspapers and keeping up with national television news programs. Her family recently introduced her to a cable station that airs Mexican programming.
Her favorite answer to any question about age is that according to her sons, "I'm in the days of Pompei."
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An estimated 11.3 million naturalized citizens live in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center. During fiscal year 2004, the latest year for which naturalization statistics are available, more than 537,000 individuals became U.S. citizens. Of that number, 2,050 people were naturalized in Hawai'i.
REQUIREMENTS FOR NATURALIZATION
• Age: 18 years or older
• Physical presence: Lawfully admitted to the U.S. for permanent residence; lawful permanent resident here for five years with no single absence from country of more than one year; physically present in the U.S. for 30 months out of past five years or 18 months out of past three years if married to or living with a U.S. citizen.
• Good moral character: Among other things, a person cannot be found to be of good moral character if, during the last five years, that person has been convicted of two or more offenses for which total sentence imposed was five years. Anyone convicted of an aggravated felony is permanently barred from naturalization.
• Language: Must be able to read, write, speak and understand words in ordinary English language usage. English is not a requirement for applicants
• Civics: Must demonstrate knowledge about U.S. history and government.
• Take oath of allegiance.
For additional information, contact Citizenship and Immigration Services, (800) 375-5283, or check online at www.uscis.gov/graphics/citizenship
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Reach Rod Ohira at email@example.com.