• Sweet land of liberty

    Citizenship held dear by those who recently became Americans
  • Gladis Enriquez of Grants Pass expects to cry today when she hears the national anthem.
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  • Gladis Enriquez of Grants Pass expects to cry today when she hears the national anthem.
    "Every time I hear the anthem, I cry. I just cry," Enriquez says.
    For Darren Turituri, his emotional moment comes while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
    "I remember when I could finally say the Pledge of Allegiance," Turituri says. "I felt particularly happy then. That was a good moment."
    They've celebrated the Fourth of July for years, but this year Enriquez and Turituri will celebrate Independence Day as American citizens.
    Turituri, a counselor and football coach at Crater High School, was born in Western Samoa before moving to American Samoa at a year old.
    He came from "the rock" to the mainland to attend Rocky Mountain College 35 years ago, speaking mainly Samoan and expecting Montana to look like the cowboy show "The Big Valley."
    "I thought everyone wore cowboy hats and rode a horse," Turituri says. "But, of course, they drove cars and lived in modern homes."
    While adjusting to college-level academics is hard enough for the average college freshman, Turituri also played football for the college and had to learn a new language.
    Turituri spoke some English, but remembers having no idea what his rapid-speaking teacher was saying in his first college class, cultural anthropology.
    "I'm not sure if I signed up for it or if they assigned me because they thought it would be a good fit, being from another culture," Turituri says. "But the teacher spoke so quickly I could not keep up with her English."
    Turituri eventually graduated with a degree in applied psychology, married his wife, Nastascha, and had four children.
    After 25 years of living in the U.S. and building a life here, Turituri became an American citizen in April.
    "It feels good to finally be a part of this country instead of a temporary resident," Turituri says. "After the ceremony, I finally felt like I truly belonged here."
    Turituri says being in America has opened doors for him to do what he loves: mentor young people through his work as a counselor and a coach.
    "Being in the school, I see a lot more kids in need, and I get to help them," Turituri says. "It's just an awesome experience."
    While Turituri says he is thankful for the opportunities afforded him in the U.S., he is mostly invested in making sure his children have those opportunities.
    His son Derrick, a past Crater High School athlete, is now a linebacker for the University of Arizona Wildcats and is planning to study medicine. Turituri says the path to where his son is now would have been possible, but much harder, if they lived in another country.
    "That's the main reason most people come to America and try to become citizens," Turituri says. "To provide more opportunities for their kids, not so much for themselves."
    Enriquez, a bank teller, is also focused on making sure her kids have every opportunity possible to succeed.
    Her father brought the family to America for those same opportunities, but at first it wasn't easy. Enriquez left behind her whole life at the age of 16, and was dropped into sophomore year of high school without knowing any English.
    "I would tell my parents, 'When I'm 18 and I'm an adult, I'm going back to Mexico, I don't want to be here,' " Enriquez recalls. "Little by little, I learned the language, made friends, things improved, and I graduated on time."
    After spending half her life in America, Enriquez secured her dual citizenship last August. While she no longer wishes to move back to Mexico, she retains her Mexican heritage while embracing America's opportunities.
    "My heart has felt like I am part of the country for the past 10 years or so," Enriquez says. "But now I feel more secure. I am sure I can go find a better job if I work hard and look in the right place. I can retire some day. I will be able to secure the same advantages that the people that were born here have, that my kids have."
    Enriquez, whose husband also holds dual citizenship, celebrates both Mexican and American holidays with her family, only sometimes they look a bit different.
    Next to the turkey on Thanksgiving are tamales and tostadas. Their Fourth of July barbecue today will feature a blend of Mexican and American food and culture.
    "My kids know why the day is important," Enriquez says. "But we also still have our culture, we still have what we were raised with, and I want my kids to learn how Mexico is, too."
    For both Turituri and Enriquez, the path to citizenship had some bumpy stretches.
    The first time Turituri applied in 1994, he filled out the wrong forms and lost about $800.
    Enriquez, who had seen friends and family have to return to Mexico after making errors on applications, was nervous about completing her forms even after securing them.
    After working with Medford lawyer John Almaguer, she accomplished the necessary steps to become a citizen, including passing a test covering American government and history.
    Enriquez says studying for the knowledge test was an opportunity to talk to her 7-year-old daughter about the value of being able to vote.
    "I see kids who were brought over without papers when they were too young to even know what was happening. They can be such a good student and still not have the same opportunities as the other kids, or have the opportunity to give to this country," Enriquez says. "Well, if my vote can help to make a difference out there, I will do it."
    Both still discover small ways being a citizen makes their lives easier, such as when they leave the country.
    "I went on vacation with my family, and I had a passport like them instead of documentation that I'm a temporary resident," Turituri says.
    Enriquez says it was "a weird feeling" to be able to drive to Mexico and back with no difficulties.
    "With a green card, you can always lose it. You can make a mistake or something can happen and you're out of here," Enriquez says. "But now I have my dual in hand."
    Enriquez says she still looks at pictures and video of her citizenship ceremony, which her daughter captured on her phone. Like hearing the national anthem, the photos bring her to tears.
    "At the ceremony, we got to hear from all these people from different parts of the world — India, Japan, China, Africa, Mexico," Enriquez says. "We all come here for whatever reason, and we're part of this country now."
    "People always say, 'It's the land of opportunity,' " Turituri says. "But it really does feel that way."
    Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368 or kthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyethomas.
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