An American in Her Heart

Maria Cristina Tomlin is one of the thousands of Mexican citizens who become naturalized Americans every year

By Justin Franz
Maria Tomlin, pictured after a naturalization ceremony at the Apgar amphitheater in Glacier National Park on Sept. 21, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Maria Cristina Tomlin realized she wanted to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in an airport security line. As her fellow passengers handed over their passports to the security guard, she looked down at hers and noticed something different: it was green.

“It sounds funny, but I didn’t want my green passport anymore,” she said. “I wanted it to be blue like everyone else.”

Tomlin had a Mexican passport even though the 38-year-old woman only lived there for a few years as a child. When she was a year old, Tomlin’s mother came to the United States to find work, and a few years later, when she was 4, she came north with her grandmother. Tomlin became a permanent resident and lived in Texas and Florida before moving to the Kalispell area last year, where she works at a grocery store.

“In my heart, I’ve always been an American,” Tomlin said. “I went to school here, I work here, my family is here.”

Tomlin is one of the thousands of Mexicans who become naturalized U.S. citizens every year. In 2014, more than 95,000 Mexicans took the oath of allegiance to become Americans, more than any other nationality.

Although she feels closer to her adopted country than Mexico, Tomlin said the rhetoric about immigration that has emerged from this year’s presidential race has frustrated her (although she doesn’t care for either major party candidate, Tomlin said she plans to vote anyway, just so she can use her newly acquired right). In Florida, she remembers seeing hundreds of people of Hispanic descent, some citizens, some not, working in fields. She says they are just as important to the country as citizens who were born here.

“We all rely on each other and we all play a role in society,” she said.

Earlier this year, Tomlin submitted her application and started studying for the oral history exam. After passing the test, the only thing left was to take an oath of allegiance, which she did on a cold morning in Glacier National Park as her family looked on. With that, Tomlin was one step closer to getting a blue passport.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said, smiling. “I did this for me.”

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