From KQED Radio: Citizenship Changes Lives

By Elba Gonzalez-Mares

I live in one of the most beautiful and visited regions in the United States — the lush and productive Napa Valley — and I absolutely love it. Harvest season has come to an end. And the fields tell us that winter is upon us.  A more somber but equally beautiful palette has replaced the yellow, orange and burgundy of autumn.

The stillness of winter vineyards brings to mind my grandfather, Alejandro Gonzalez, and how right he was to build a new life for our family in this special place. He was a farmworker. For 30 years, he picked prunes, almonds, figs and grapes in Napa Valley. He was young and strong, but it wasn’t easy. My grandmother was left alone in Mexico with their six children, struggling to make ends meet with the earnings he carefully sent home. She often went months without seeing him. Then one day, his life changed forever. And so did mine.

A good man, a farmer in the Napa Valley, helped my grandfather file for citizenship. He saw in my grandfather what I see in so many immigrants today; a hardworking man who wanted to build a future for his children. Citizenship enabled my grandfather to live and work permanently here with dignity and to become a more active member of his adopted community. Eventually, it also meant he could reunite his family, which is why I am here today — part of a growing class of Latino professionals in Napa, which will be the first Bay Area County with a majority Latino population.

Unfortunately, neither my grandfather nor the famer who generously sponsored his citizenship is still with us to see this day. But I hear echoes of their courage and vision all around me.

Immigrants continue to work, strive for a better life and contribute to Napa Valley in countless ways, especially as they become involved in civic affairs. Nonprofit groups here are working to guide Green Card holders through a path to citizenship.

Efforts like this remind me that this place I call home, the Napa Valley, is special not only because of breathtaking scenery and amazing wines, but also because of the people who live here.  

With a Perspective, I’m Elba Gonzalez-Mares.

Elba Gonzalez-Mares works for the Children’s Health Initiative of Napa County and is board chair of a community resource center.

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