When Gricelda Ramos came to Fresno from Jalisco, Guadalajara in 1986, she was 9 years old and had never met her parents.
“I didn’t know I had four brothers here in the U.S. or even what my mom or dad looked like,” Ramos said, explaining they had come to Fresno for farm work when she was a baby. “It was a completely different lifestyle.”
It was difficult, Ramos said, learning the language and being placed in special classes in school, but she kept at it and worked hard. She eventually opened a catering business in Fresno as a single mother of two daughters.
After beginning her application four years ago for naturalization, on Saturday Ramos joined alongside 218 others at the Satellite Student Union at Fresno State to receive her U.S. citizenship at a special ceremony in honor of World Refugee Day.
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“I already considered myself an American, but I’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time,” Ramos said. “I feel it in my blood.”
Ramos said she is grateful to be where she is today and wants to give back to others. After raising her daughters, Ramos retired from catering and went to work at Clovis Community Medical Center.
“Every chance I get to go out there, I know I’m making a difference with every person I’m able to talk to,” Ramos said. “This is just me.”
I’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time.
Gricelda Ramos of Fresno, a new U.S. citizen
Like Ramos, speakers at Saturday’s event noted the hardships many refugees face. Paul Lo, the nation’s first Hmong-American judge, was the keynote speaker for the ceremony who addressed both the struggles and opportunities for new citizens.
“You pledge to give the best part of you, your hopes and dreams, talent and hard work so that your children and future generations of Americans can still live in peace and freedom to purse that dream,” Lo said. ‘“Everything that you do, big or small, matters.”
Twenty-nine nations were represented in the ceremony, and 219 people – including 74 children – took the oath of citizenship. Rebecca Hlei, 8, who attends Lawless Elementary School in Fresno, said she was proud to be there and proud of her parents for all they have achieved.
Her family moved to Fresno five months ago to open a sushi business, and her father, Lian, will be attending seminary school in Pasadena in the fall. Formerly refugees from Malaysia, Lian said today he is proud to call Fresno his home.
“It’s a dream come true, because in our country the political situation is really bad, but when we came here, everything is different,” Lian said. “We are in second heaven now.”
It’s a dream come true.
Lian Hlei, a Malaysian refugee who became a U.S. citizen
Lo, a refugee himself, urged the crowd to not grow discouraged by recent events in the U.S. but to remember the strength that got each citizen to where they are today.
“Only in America could children of poor refugees who don’t even know how to turn on or off lights when they first get here, be able to achieve so much,” Lo said.
The ceremony, hosted by the Maddy Institute and in partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Citizenship Academy and the Network for Integrating New Americans of the Central Valley, is one of 12 monthly ceremonies that take place in Fresno each year.
Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614