Becoming a Citizen

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Feb. 1, 2013

Becoming a Citizen

Trinity University professor says she has earned 'a degree in humanity'

Trinity University associate professor Rita Urquijo-Ruiz

SAN ANTONIO - Trinity University associate professor Rita Urquijo-Ruiz has traveled many roads since her childhood in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, where she "played teacher" by periodically fashioning makeshift notebooks out of string and scraps of paper and breaking pencils into pieces for 10 siblings and neighbors who pretended to be her students.

Told by her widowed mother and other relatives that education would lift her from poverty, she left Mexico at age 16 for California, where she excelled in school and attended several branches of the University of California system on a combination of scholarships and state financial aid. Struggling through the heartbreaking death of her mother, whom she lost to lung cancer while a junior in college, she almost gave up.   

Trinity University associate professor Rita Urquijo-Ruiz Mindful of her goal, however, she ultimately earned a doctorate in literature with a concentration in Mexican and Mexican American literature and culture. Nine years ago, she arrived at Trinity.

In late January, Urquijo-Ruiz left her classroom where she teaches Spanish, walked across campus to Laurie Auditorium, and raised her hand to take an oath of allegiance to become a U.S. citizen. She was one of about 400 immigrants who took part in a naturalization ceremony conducted by the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service. Trinity opens Laurie Auditorium to the federal agency several times a year for such events.

"Citizenship is like another degree - a degree in humanity, so that I may participate in this society to the fullest extent of my ability," Urquijo-Ruiz said. She is especially looking forward to voting and to continuing her activism about issues affecting Latinas, women, and the LGBT community. Voting will help her feel "fully integrated" into both the United States and Mexico, she said, adding: "With the Ph.D., I already have a lot of privileges, but there is nothing like the privilege of citizenship."

Once she realized she could maintain dual citizenship and not feel a betrayal to her homeland, the process was easy. She applied last summer and crammed for a citizenship test by listening to a CD with questions as she drove around town. Naturally, she aced that test as well as one measuring her written and spoken English - as evidenced by the fact that she was chosen to deliver remarks at the ceremony. "Citizenship will help me speak for the voiceless," she said.

Friends and Trinity colleagues gathered to watch her big moment, but missing were family members from Mexico, her mother, and the two "angel" families that nurtured her in California and helped with permanent residency  requirements. They are Hector and Tomasa González, family friends who took her in first, and Eugene and Carol Porter, who took her in second. Eugene Porter was her high school math teacher, but the couple now lives in Florida.

"I always knew of their love," she said, adding that she kept asking, "How can I repay you for helping me throughout my life? Their answer was 'Make us proud.'" And she has through, her intellectual work, including a recently published book, Wild Tongues: Transnational Mexican Popular Cultures.

A colleague, Rosana Blanco-Cano, also an associate professor of Spanish, went through a similar process in 2011 to become a U.S. citizen. According to University records, five additional faculty members are classified as non-resident aliens or have international citizenship.

Listen to Urquijo-Ruiz's speech from the ceremony below.


-Susie Gonzalez