"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Friday, June 02, 2006

"Centenarian put off U.S. citizenship for 79 years"


Although she has lived in the United States since the age of 12, coming in 1927, Mexican-born Maria Soledad Sarabia Lagareta never learned to speak English.

Soledad, as she is fondly called by family members, has been in the United States for 79 years. She was born on Mexico's west coast in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, in 1906. Orphaned at age 12 when her father died in the 1918 influenza pandemic, she moved with her two sisters to Los Angeles to stay with a relative in 1927.

Although both of her sisters became U.S. citizens many years ago, Soledad did not.

"She has always had an allegiance to America. ... It was just never official," said Roland, one of a handful of family members who witnessed the event.

"She wanted to (become a U.S. citizen) for a number of years. It just always never seemed to happen," he said.

"Her situation allowed us to bypass some of the regulations that were an issue for her in the past," Roland said, noting that her inability to speak English had been a "big issue."

As part of the naturalization process, Soledad had to answer at least six questions about the United States correctly. Roland, who translated for her during the test, said she answered the first six questions correctly without hesitation.


Soledad worked as a seamstress in Hollywood before moving to Hawaii in 1976 to be closer to her sons, Roland and Bruce, who had moved to the islands seven years earlier. Her husband, Robert, died in the 1960s.

For almost 20 years, Soledad rode the bus to her favorite Mexican grocery stores and cooked lunch for her two sons, Bruce said, adding that she loves to eat and prepare Mexican food.

This sweet-looking elderly lady exemplifies the millions in America who live in language ghettos where English is rarely heard or written. Thus lack even the most basic of English skills. Here are the six questions she could not answer in English.

The Test

These are the six questions that Maria Lagareta was asked to answer correctly to gain U.S. citizenship, according to her son Roland Lagareta who translated the test for her.

1. Who is the current president?
2. Who was the first president?
3. Where is the capital of the United States?
4. Who can vote for U.S. congressmen?
5. What is the minimum age for voting in a federal election?
6. What was the nationality of the first people to land on the moon?

Answers: 1. George W. Bush; 2. George Washington; 3. Washington D.C.; 4. American citizens; 5. 18; 6. American

Troubling. How can someone live in the United States for more than 70 years and still not learn enough English to answer in simple English? The answer is sad and simple: she lived in a language ghetto. Unfortunately because of the rapid influx of immigrants, there can and will be more and more people like Mrs. Lagareta.

Here is the reason why her test was so simple:

English requirements vary depending on age and disability:


English Requirements

The following persons need not demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language:

a. A person who, on the date of filing of his or her application for naturalization, is over fifty years of age and has been living in the U.S. for periods totaling at least twenty years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence;

b. A person who, on the date of filing his or her application for naturalization, is over fifty five years of age and has been living in the U.S. for periods totaling at least fifteen years subsequent to lawful permanent residence; or

c. A person who is unable, because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments to demonstrate an understanding of the English language.

Exceptions: U.S. History/Civics Requirements

The requirements of U.S. history/civics do not apply to a person who is unable, because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment3 to demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of the requirements.

But Mrs. Lagareta did not come to the United States as a person over the age of 50; she was 12 years old, young enough to acquire and become fluent in another language. Her life in Latinized Los Angeles prevented assimilation. Did she make a choice or did her circumstances trap her in a language and cultural ghetto outside of the mainstream?

Mrs. Lagareta was only required to answer five questions that don't demonstrate an applicant's understanding of loyalty to the United States. The normal test of 100 questions is no better. Although they demonstrate some knowledge of the Constitution, how do they demonstrate that the applicant will be a good citizen or that that person understands the meaning of allegiance to the United States?

Perhaps there were few resources available to Mrs. Lagareta when she was young, but today with all the available materials there is no excuse.


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