Maria Ramirez Perez was naturalized recently in Wenatchee. “She says America to her is like Thanksgiving,” says her daughter-in-law.

Share story

WENATCHEE — On Christmas Day, 1929, Maria Ramirez Perez was born in a small, poverty-stricken town in rural Mexico. At the Numerica Performing Arts Center on Monday night, the petite mother of 12, now nearly 88 years old, was sworn in as an American citizen, along with 57 other immigrants from six nations.

The PAC’s executive director, Matt Cadman, addressed the crowded theater at the start of the naturalization ceremony, which was hosted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Yakima Office:

“During this political season filled with loud and passionate speeches about what it means to be an American, it is a privilege to be reminded that, right now, right here on this stage, we are privileged to witness the true blessings of democracy — face to face, heart to heart. You are inspirations to all of us here, and powerful reminders of what makes our nation great.”

The audience stood when veterans with the local American Legion post presented the flag, and the St. Joseph Catholic School choir sang the national anthem with gusto. Then all 58 candidates for citizenship recited the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, renouncing other nations and promising to defend the Constitution. Family and friends clapped and cheered and cried.

I spoke to Maria, or “Mama Maria” as her family calls her, in the crowded PAC lobby immediately following the ceremony. Holding an American flag in her hands, Maria smiled. Her English is not great, so Maria’s daughter-in-law, Ruth Macias, helped translate our conversation. What does America mean to her? I asked Ruth, and she translated Maria’s words.

“She says America to her is like Thanksgiving.” It’s about gathering together as one family. It’s about being grateful. And Maria is grateful for so much.

Growing up in Tamazula in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Maria, like most girls in town, did not attend school and never learned to read.

“She always tells me, ‘What power you have that you know how to read and write,’ ” Ruth said.

Maria married a man who worked at the sugar-cane mill in town, Tamazula’s largest employer. They had 12 children, then he left her. An illiterate woman on her own, Maria cooked tortillas and washed clothes to make money. It wasn’t a lot of money and life was difficult. And then, the unthinkable: Two of Maria’s children died of malnutrition. She raised her surviving kids in Mexico. In 1989, at the age of 60, Maria came to America in search of a better life. She settled in California for many years, helping to raise some of her grandchildren, before moving to the Wenatchee Valley eight years ago to be near Ruth and her husband — Maria’s son — Pastor Nectali R. Macias.

Becoming a U.S. citizen has long been a dream of Maria’s. Of her nine children who are still living, eight are now U.S. citizens. “She loves this country,” Ruth said. “She loves her family and she’s a strong lady. And she’s excited to be able to vote.”

Yes, Maria’s life has been tough — much tougher than most of us can even imagine. “But you know what?” Ruth said. “She’s always happy. She’s never asked for anything. I’ve never heard her complain. She’s grateful for her life.”

To Maria — and to all the men and women who took the oath alongside her — welcome to the American family.