Thursday, May 17, 2012

Farmington custodian earns her citizenship with support from staff, students

Farmington custodian earns her citizenship with support from staff, students
Dream job • Co-workers surprised her with the money needed to file her application.
Janet Gundry, a fourth-grade teacher at Farmington Elementary, with Walkiria Martinez at a citizenship ceremony on April 18. Courtesy Janet Gundry
A 2-month-old baby was left alone in Nicaragua — malnourished, unwanted and living in squalor.
The baby’s grandfather, alerted by neighbors, broke down the door and rescued her 49 years ago.
He whisked her away and dropped her off at his mother’s house.
Walkiria Martinez’s life, though, would take several more twists and turns before she found herself in the quiet town of Farmington.
Her great-grandmother raised her in Nicaragua. She attended school, but was unable to complete her education because in 1978 her high school was burned down as the country was ravaged by war.
She married and had children with a man who she says abused her and left her destitute on the streets of Central America — pregnant and with a 3- and 6-year-old in tow.
She said she had no options in her homeland, and decided to make the month-long trek to the United States, where she crossed the border illegally.
She eventually found herself in Utah, where she settled down.
In 1992, she married her husband, Larry, and in 1996, she became a legal resident. Together, the couple has raised six children.
About a decade ago, Martinez began working for the Davis County School District. For the past three years, she has been the head custodian at Farmington Elementary.
Since earning her residency, she has wanted to become a citizen. But she has not had the time or the money to do so.
Her coworkers, though, wanted to make Martinez’s dream come true.
Secretly, they saved up the $800 Martinez needed to file her citizenship application and presented it to her at a Christmas party.
Martinez was shocked by the gift.
“I was, oh my goodness; I was so excited. I was crying. It was amazing. All these people are so sweet, so loving. I love the children, I love the staff,” she said.
Martinez said her heart was pounding when she put her citizenship application in the mail. Then the studying began.
“I was not going to let the children at the school down by failing a test,” she said.
Her coworkers and school faculty and staff helped her prepare.
“I would go in and quiz her and she could just rattle off the answers. It was cute,” said Principal Bryan Tesch.
Martinez passed, and on April 18, Martinez took her oath to become a citizen.
“Heavenly Father had a plan for me. He didn’t let me out of his sight. My great-grandmother always told me keep the faith, and I did,” she said.
Janet Gundry, a fourth-grade teacher, surprised Martinez by attending the citizenship ceremony. Gundry, who teaches her students about citizenship, said she was honored to witness first-hand the work and emotion that goes into the process.
“It was one of the most, amazing, fantastic, sweet, tender and moving experiences of my life,” Gundry said. “It was so fun to watch someone I care for and love, to see her joy. She couldn’t stop crying. She would turn around and wave and she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.”
Gundry also was touched by the attitudes of all those who took their oaths that day.
“To hear the gratitude the new citizens felt in their hearts to be a part of this great country was so moving,” she said.
Students supported Martinez’s journey to citizenship, too.
They made a book of poetry and cards for her, along with a huge banner declaring her their “Mrs. America.”
Fourth-grader Amberly Morrow, 10, explained what she learned about citizenship.
“You think to yourself it’s not that big of a deal because you were born with it and take it for granted. But to actually see someone do it and how much they want it is cool. You actually get to experience it through other people,” Amberly said.
Travis Barton,9, was surprised when he found out Martinez had to give up her citizenship to Nicaragua to become an American.
“It’s like getting something you really want, you have to give up something to get it,” he said.
Martinez was overwhelmed by the support and joy she felt through her citizenship process.
“I feel so patriotic; my own kids are in the military. This year at the 4th of July, my house is going to be red, white and blue like crazy. It is so meaningful. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to be where I am,” Martinez said. “This is appreciation week at the school, and I appreciate everyone — I feel part of a family. It’s amazing.”
Poems from students honoring Walkiria Martinez
Mrs. America Martinez
Roses are pink
Our floor has no dirt
You are so cool
You play a big part in our school
You just became a citizen
And that is so cool
You went to a big party and
All of a sudden you could vote
You live in the US legally now
You’re the best American in the world.
— Sarah Gregory, sixth grade
You’re wonderful to this school
You’re better than a shiny jewel.
We love having you around
It’s better than the most beautiful sound.
You’re such a great lady,
You’re very far from shady.
You make me want to sing,
And fly like I had wings.
You’re so awesome,
You smell like a blossom.
You’re so sweet,
You’re the woman on the street.
— Amelia Stephens, sixth grade

© 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune
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