The Fifth of July

Fayetteville JFON welcomes a new U.S. citizen

Like thousands of young people before and after him, José Yanez came to this country seeking opportunity. He was 18 years old. He had studied to be an electrician in school, but good jobs were not in abundance in his small Mexican town.

“If you are looking for opportunity, you will find it,” he says decisively. “I got the opportunity, so I decided to come here.”

Good jobs were also difficult to find in the United States, and the work he did find was physically draining and potentially dangerous: on construction sites in Houston, in the sugar cane fields of Florida, and at poultry processing plants in North Carolina.

José was undeterred by hard work or what he viewed as minor setbacks.  “I always had the mentality to seek opportunity,” he says of these years. He learned English on his own, practicing with his co-workers and others whenever he could. He eventually landed a job in maintenance and then worked his way up to electrician.

Along the way, he married and began raising a family in North Carolina. He and his wife have four children; the eldest daughter is a recent college graduate, and the other three children study at local schools.

José received his green card in 2011 and started making plans to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. “It was always my goal,” he says, “but time got in the way. In the blink of an eye, it was 2020.”

Staff Attorney Donna Akuamoah in her Fayetteville JFON office.

The hardest part, he adds, was starting the process. Finally, a friend recommended that he and his wife contact Fayetteville Justice for Our Neighbors.  They started working with staff attorney Donna Akuamoah.

“It was a really good experience,” he states vigorously. “She cares. She cares a lot. She wants you to be prepared, and she makes sure that everything is done right.”

José had recently taken another opportunity—this time to get his GED. That helped him learn more about U.S. history, government, and social studies.

His children also helped, particularly his middle daughter, 11 years old at the time.

“She helped me with the questions,” he recalls. “Sometimes she would ask me the questions, and sometimes I would ask her the questions. But she pushed me—hard!” José chuckles and shakes his head. “I don’t mind. I think it’s going to help her when she gets to high school.”

All that studying paid off. José passed his test easily, and took the oath of citizenship on July 5th.  The significance of the date—one day after Independence Day—is not lost on him or his family. Although it was a small ceremony—his wife had become a citizen three months earlier—they had a family party for him afterward.

And, yes, he admits, with a smile. His children are veryproud of him.jose yanez new citizen

What has changed since you became a citizen?

“Nothing right away,” he replies seriously, “but a lot of things will change. I’m going to get a U.S.  passport. This is something I have been waiting for and wanting for a long time. I want to visit my mother in Mexico at the end of this year. And before that,” he adds, “I willvote.”

In the meantime, José talks up Fayetteville JFON wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself.

“I don’t speak well,” he says humbly. (He’s wrong about that.)  “But I have been recommending JFON to everybody I know. These are people who care about you, I tell them. These are people you can trust.


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