Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship buckle down for a life-changing test

In an evening class at Jefferson High School, 30 adult immigrants study U.S. civics. Diligently, they come together four nights a week. Who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court? John Roberts, of course, although most citizens are more familiar with the judges on American Idol. But here, the stakes are higher than in the average home. These students soon plan to take the naturalization test, or have, to earn their citizenship, meaning security from anti-immigration laws and deportation. It allows for long trips outside the United States and the unquestioned right to return. Citizens can vote, bring other family members, pass citizenship to their children and apply for public benefits. "Why do you want to become a citizen?" asks teacher Maria Garcia-Nunez, reading from the application form. Women from Colombia seated up front practice answering to each other: "This is my home country now." They came from around the globe and settled in local neighborhoods, often with tales of hardship to get here. We asked a few of them to tell their stories.

Antonio Augusto Sampaio Guerra, 57, West Tampa:

As a boy growing up in Brazil, Guerra dreamed of coming to the United States. As a young man living in Uruguay, he worked in rice fields, starting his day at 5 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m., he said, stopping only to eat. He was paid $100 a month.

Five years ago, he came here on an immigrant visa, following his wife, whose father had been a U.S. citizen. He says he has worked at the Cheesecake Factory and Whole Foods Market. Now living in West Tampa, Guerra plans to take the test this month. He says coming here was God's answer to his prayers. "I love this country from my heart," he said.

Gabriel Adarve, 48, Town 'N Country:

He came to Florida in 1996 on a tourist visa from Colombia. He and his wife, Luz Mary Perez, 46, worked in sales in Colombia, but the economy was so bad, they barely got by. Adarve, a tailor, visited first for a handbag show in Miami. The second time he came he decided to stay. "I like this country," he said. "No more Colombia."

They left their parents, brothers, sisters. They came for good 10 years ago with their son, who was 13. They wanted an education and a career for their son, who hopes to become an architect.

Zenaida Rodriguez Fernandez, 51, West Tampa:

In Cuba, she worked for a transport company, but said she had "mucho" problems because she spoke her mind. Her mother worried about her safety.

"The police were coming for me all the time," she said. "In Cuba, everything is government." They searched her house, she said, and told her: "You no good because you talky talky."

In 1998, she applied for the Cuban lottery, which grants immigrant visas to the United States. Two years later, she won. Here, she most values her freedom of expression. She got a job with the school district 10 years ago and now is the head custodian at West Tampa Elementary School.

Reynaldo Cruz, 45, Clair-Mel:

After taking the ongoing class at Jefferson awhile, Cruz passed the naturalization test last week and went right back to work, operating a machine at Comres, a company that makes restroom partitions.

"There was no time to celebrate," said Cruz.

Job opportunities brought him from the Dominican Republic, where he says he worked as a motorcycle mechanic 25 years ago. He now lives in Clair-Mel with his wife and two sons. He still relies on the boys to translate English to Spanish sometimes. His eldest, Reily, 20, (at right in photo above) came here when he was 5 and started first grade at Bing Elementary School. Reily recently graduated from Bloomingdale High School and plans to apply for citizenship, after he saves up the $595 application fee.

Araceli Cabrera, 38, Carrollwood:

Students often share their culture through food, and Cabrera brought a heaping plate of homemade tamales to share with her classmates. She came to the United States 13 years ago from Mexico. She stayed with a cousin in Tampa at first and later married a man from Puerto Rico. They have two children. But she says she is the only one in the family without citizenship. She works at a uniform company, G & K Services.

Test your civics knowledge with these sample questions

Applicants for naturalization must correctly answer at least six out 10, chosen from a list of 100 civics and history questions. Find out more about citizenship classes in Hillsborough County at

1. Who is the "father of our country"?

2. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?

3. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?

4. What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?

5. Who is one of your state's U.S. senators now?

6. Who is the commander in chief of the military?

7. Who was president during World War I?

8. What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?

9. When was the Constitution written?

10. When do we celebrate Independence Day?

Answers: 1. George Washington 2. life, liberty, pursuit of happiness 3. We the people 4. the Louisiana Territory 5. Bill Nelson or Marco Rubio 6. the president 7. Woodrow Wilson 8. freed the slaves 9. 1787 10. July 4

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship buckle down for a life-changing test 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Plan your weekend Aug. 18-20: Elvis in concert, Jason Aldean, Monster Jam Triple Threat, Sing-Along Grease


    Plan your weekend

    The king

    Elvis: Live in Concert: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and Ruth Eckerd Hall will have a Graceland-produced Elvis concert on a movie screen, accompanied by a full live orchestra. Graceland calls it the closest audiences …

    Handout photos of Elvis: Live in Concert, a tour spectacle featuring a live orchestra backing the voice of Elvis Presley, projected onto a movie screen. The tour comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on 8/18/17. Credit: Graceland.
  2. Woman convicted in murder of 18-year-old with cerebral palsy gets lighter term


    TAMPA — Linda Bonck, a 90-pound Chamberlain High School senior with cerebral palsy, lived near Tampa's Lowry Park. She struggled to walk and talk but was known for being friendly and trusting of strangers until she vanished one day in 1992.

    Georgia Miller, 39, was convicted for the 1992 murder of Linda Bonck, an 18-year-old Chamberlain High School student who had cerebral palsy. Originally sentenced to life in prison, Miller was resentenced Wednesday to 65 years, the result of U.S. and Florida Supreme Court decisions that found it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life. With gain time, Miller will be released from prison in the next six years. [Florida Department of Corrections]
  3. Boynton Beach woman arrested on DUI, child abuse charges


    A Boynton Beach woman was arrested Saturday and faces DUI and child abuse charges after she blew a .200 on a breath test with an unbuckled child in the backseat, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

    Brandy Lerma, 31 of Boynton Beach, was arrested on DUI and child abuse charges on Saturday. [Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Editorial: Why can't Hillsborough commissioners move Confederate monument?


    The violence in Charlottesville, Va., crystallized for much of the nation the danger of refusing to address painful symbols of the past. But not so in Hillsborough County, where the County Commission on Wednesday reversed itself yet again and left open the possibility of leaving a Confederate monument outside the …

  5. Former WTSP employee sues station's parent companies for gender discrimination


    A former director at WTSP-Ch. 10 has sued the station's parent companies, claiming she was the victim of gender discrimination.