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Congresswoman Norma Torres

Representing the 35th District of California

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Congresswoman Norma Torres reflects on becoming a U.S. citizen

July 4, 2015
In The News

Rep. Norma Torres was a little girl when she arrived in Whittier from her native Guatemala in the early 1970s.

“I know no other country,” said Torres, D-Ontario. “It wasn’t my choice to come here.”

Torres came to live with an uncle and aunt in Whittier after her mother became ill and her father needed to care for his ailing wife, she said.

The neighborhood she lived in “was an all American community,” Torres said. Residents “were very proud to be Americans.”

In school, Torres learned English quickly and grew up never giving much attention to the fact she wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

“It wasn’t until Proposition 187 that I realized there was something different,” she said.

By then Torres was married, a mother and a 9-1-1 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department. She worked nights to care for her children during the day. She traveled to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento to lobby in support of issues affecting working women.

“I was working very hard,” Torres said.

California’s Proposition 187 was a ballot initiative voters approved in 1994 that called for making undocumented immigrants ineligible for public benefits. The initiative was never enforced and later found unconstitutional by a federal court.

Torres began to wonder if her young children could be affected because she was a legal resident rather than a citizen. So she decided to become a naturalized citizen, she said.

She enrolled in a citizenship class, completed the steps and went to the L.A. Convention Center where she took the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

At the time it was simply a bureaucratic step that on paper made official what she felt for years — that she was a part of the U.S.

“It was a formality. I didn’t realize or see it as something that could lead to so much more,” she said.

Looking back, Torres said she wishes she had realized then the significance of that ceremony as much as she does now as she celebrates the achievements of those sworn-in as citizens in ceremonies in Pomona.