I am a tie-dyed American. My roots are dyed in the colors of the plaid tartans of the Scottish Duncan clan and the glazed in the spicy fires of the Latino Puchi family. Both cultures hold me firmly planted in the United States of America. Forever may it wave over the grave of my Mamanina, my grandmother and a woman who spent most of her life wishing she could be an American citizen. Suzanna Puchi, an immigrant since 1914, finally realized that dream at age 75 in October of 1977.
Papanino, my grandfather, became a citizen on May 17, 1941, when my mother was 12 years old. Juan Baptista Puchi was a grocery store owner in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. What a difference 71 years makes. His formal naturalization certificate reads “True American identification as registered by the United States Government.” He was 47 years old.
Mamanina never believed she was smart enough to pass the test but she longed for the recognition of citizenship in the country she called home. She worked side by side with Papanino in the grocery store, had a child in the states, moved to Los Angeles to start a new life when my grandfather died and my mother was only 16. She worked in the garment district in Los Angeles, owned property, sent my mother to college, paid her taxes, had a driver’s license and a passport. But was not a naturalized citizen. She filed with the post office for her green card as was the custom and without fail.
She confessed to my mother her desire to become a citizen when she was in her 70′s. It was something she had always wanted but feared the failure. This brilliant business woman doubted her ability to learn the details of our government, its structure and the complexities of the Constitution on which it was founded. The historical dates required memorization and an understanding of our past that she felt were beyond her capabilities. My mother assured her that if she wanted this dream to come true, she would help her make it a reality. So they set to work learning what my grandmother had lived for over 70 years; in a country that she called home but that did not recognized her as its own. There were no classes to attend, so together my father and mother gathered materials for her to study. I was grown with a family of my own. Some of this I remember, but most of it I took for granted. Mamanina had always lived with us, so in my mind she was just as American as I was. When I was in Civics classes, it never occured to me that my grandmother was not a citizen. It was a boring class filled with boring details about government, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. To me it was a grade on my report card. To her it was a dream she had worked her whole life to achieve.
In October of 1977, at the age of 75, Mamanina’s dream came true. Shortly after she took the test, my family moved from Woodland, California to Roseburg, Oregon. It was there that she received the letter with her picture and the White House emblem. The swearing in ceremony was held in Sacramento and my father drove her there and stood witness as she realized that dream and said these words.
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
As a native born American, I did not have to study, take a test or declare my allegiance under oath to the United States of America. And yet, my grandmother spent her whole life working, paying taxes, contributing and wanting the privilege of those same rights. The day she pledged her allegiance to the United States of America was rich with pride and satisfaction beyond measure for her and for her family on both sides of the border. She died four years later at age 79.
My father insisted that every national holiday an American flag be placed on Mamanina’s grave. I pledge that symbol of her faith in this country will continue to be a part of our American roots. Long may it wave!