With tears in her eyes, Maria C. Borerro held an American flag as she took an oath of allegiance to the United States during a unique naturalization ceremony on International Women’s Day. 

Borerro, 87, was the eldest of 96 women from around the globe who gathered at San Antonio’s City Council Chambers to become citizens of the United States. The group was sworn in by U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower.

“We hope you’ll find ways not only to prosper, but to share your many talents and to feel that you’re truly valued as members of the community,” Hightower said. 

Borerro said that when immigrated from Cuba 17 years ago, she had always longed to become a citizen of the country.

“Right now, there’s a lot of misery that exists in Cuba. There is no improvement in the country. Each day, they go backward in everything.”

In Texas, 990,000 permanent residents are eligible for naturalization, and over 66,000 eligible immigrants live in the San Antonio metropolitan area, according to the National Partnership for New Americans. Citizenship provides protection from deportation, and children of naturalized citizens who are permanent residents automatically become citizens when they turn 18 years old.

Opportunity to petition for family members is also gained, as well as access to greater economic opportunities. As citizens, they also gain the right to vote in national, state, and local elections.

“Happy” and “grateful” were words Borerro used to describe how she was feeling. Her future plans include voting and reuniting with her daughter and her son, whom she plans to bring from Cuba to join her in Austin soon.

Zeinad Zaidi, an electrical engineer originally from India who lives in Austin, said becoming a naturalized citizen on International Women’s Day was more special to her. 

“It was made extra special with the timing. Listening to all the councilwomen and the judge, it was very inspiring. It was a coming together of different facets of my life, where I, being a career woman, seeing so many great examples in front of me. … This moment is a once-in-a-lifetime day for me,” Zaidi said. 

She said gaining her citizenship today and hearing District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval and District 4 Councilman Adriana Rocha Garcia’s words have inspired her to seek more ways to be involved and to contribute in her community. 

Sandoval, who went through the naturalization process herself at 18 years old, said there are organizations in her district that help with preparing for citizenship. 

“Everyone, whether or not we’re a citizen of the United States, contributes to this country. We work, we bring our culture, we contribute to our community, but it isn’t until we become a citizen that we can take all those opportunities,” Sandoval said. 

Among those opportunities, Sandoval said, is the right to vote.

“Your voice is your vote. That vote is what can allow us to shape the future of our communities,” she said. “That vote is the way to tell those in charge what’s important to us, what our values are, and perhaps one day, when you become a citizen, you will be standing at a podium like this and you may be an elected official.”

The naturalization oath ceremony was organized by the City of San Antonio, the National Partnership for New Americans, the Texas Organizing Project and the Service Employment International Union, which is working toward a national effort to “Naturalize 2 million by 2022.” 

Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.