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Home is where the heart is

Immigrants take oath of allegiance in naturalization ceremony

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 22, 2011

 Virginia Mulo of Rochester Hills raises her hand as she takes the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at the Macedonian Cultural Center in Sterling Heights March 11. Mulo originally hails from Argentina.

Virginia Mulo of Rochester Hills raises her hand as she takes the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at the Macedonian Cultural Center in Sterling Heights March 11. Mulo originally hails from Argentina.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Simone Cato and Jesus Galindo were born and raised hundreds of miles apart — she in Jamaica, he in Mexico.

But a common thread — love — led them to the same place March 11: a naturalization ceremony at the Macedonian Cultural Center in Sterling Heights, where they took the oath of allegiance to become U.S. citizens.

Cato and Galindo, sitting a row apart, both decided to pursue citizenship after falling in love with the Americans who are now their spouses.

They were joined by nearly 100 other metro Detroiters hailing from all over the world. Nearly 30 countries were represented, including Iraq, Canada, Pakistan, India, China, Senegal, Russia, Romania, Kenya and Lebanon.

U.S. District Court Judge Marianne O. Battani administered the obligatory oath to attendees, who stood with hands raised, pledging to renounce allegiances to other countries and defend the laws and the Constitution of the United States.

Battani encouraged them to continue making diversity one of America’s strengths and urged them to take seriously their newfound responsibilities, such as voting and serving as jurors.

She acknowledged that it’s not uncommon for newly naturalized citizens to have mixed feelings about relinquishing loyalty to their native countries.

“We should all remember that there’s nothing in the oath of allegiance … that says you have to give up your culture, your heritage or those things that you love about your countries,” she said.

Participants proceeded to the front of the room to accept citizenship certificates as court
clerk Bernadette Thebolt announced their names and native countries. Some were alone; some were in pairs; some were entire families. Many posed with Battani for pictures snapped by beaming relatives.

Galindo came to the United States six years ago, planning to care for his sister, who was ill and comatose. What he didn’t anticipate was meeting his future wife.

“I met someone here,” he said with a smile, “and I fell in love.”

Megan Dusch was a friend of Galindo’s brother-in-law, and they crossed paths when Dusch visited his sister in the hospital.

At the time, Galindo’s knowledge of English was limited to “hamburger with cheese and Coke. And Marlboro Lights,” he laughed. Dusch knew only a handful of basic Spanish phrases: I love you, hello and very beautiful.

But Galindo said it made little difference; they bridged the communication gap through gestures.

“We were talking in hands, our language was hands,” he recalled. “You don’t need to speak the same language … when you really love somebody.”

They married five years ago, and now they’re both bilingual. Galindo — who taught his bride Spanish —enrolled in courses at Oakland Community College to learn English. He now speaks it almost flawlessly, but said he struggled initially because he was always trying to translate mentally. Finally, he said, he realized, “No: I need to think in English only.”

He’s still at OCC, but for a different reason: He’s working toward his nursing degree. With his newfound status as a citizen, he’s eagerly anticipating exercising his right to vote.

Galindo said the road to citizenship was a long one. “Too much paperwork, expensive, and time,” he said. “But it’s worth it. I’m not going to lie to you — it’s worth it.”

Cato was likewise compelled to seek citizenship because of a spouse. But unlike in Galindo’s case, she and her husband, Steve Cato, met in her native Jamaica.

She was the president of a Christian campus movement, and he was part of a visiting group from the U.S. Both in their final year of college, they hit it off, and maintained communication via phone and Internet for three years.

“He surprised me every now and again and came back,” she said, but the visits were fewer than they would have liked.

The Catos had two weddings in Jamaica. The first, in June 2003, was an official one, to get the necessary paperwork rolling. It was on a Friday. The groom had to be back in the U.S. on Monday.

The second ceremony, in August, was the “real wedding,” with family and friends, said Cato. Steve Cato stayed for a week post-honeymoon before having to return home.

On Sept. 11, 2003, Simone Cato — armed with a green card — was finally able to join her husband here.

More than seven years and two children later, Cato said she finally felt prepared to take the next step toward citizenship. It wasn’t easy, she admitted, because her heart remains in Jamaica. They return to the Caribbean island annually to visit her family and friends.

Recalling how she wistfully watched others head to the polls each election season, Cato cited a longing to participate in the democratic process as a major factor in her decision to seek naturalization.

“I feel like I’m finally willing to let go of Jamaica,” she said. “I’m finally in a place emotionally … to commit whole-heartedly to the United States.”

Cato recorded the entire ceremony on a handheld camera and said she plans to show it to her children one day.

This was the second naturalization ceremony held at the Macedonian Cultural Center in as many years. Misko Vasovski of the American-Macedonian Association and Greg Stangis, the general manager, said the center donates the use of its banquet facilities for the occasion, and it’s something they hope to repeat annually.

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