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On Sept. 17, Citizenship Day was observed to recognize all who have chosen to become U.S. citizens. It is an observance that is held each year, but the day has special meaning for one local citizen, Jesus Gutierrez of Oxford, who says that the choice to apply for American citizenship has been a privilege he does not take for granted.
Gutierrez came to America from the village of Guanajuato, Mexico more than 30 years ago. One of 11 children, he came here for “a better life,” leaving his parents, seven sisters and three brothers behind. While he admits it was “hard” to leave his family, it is a decision, he says, he does not regret.
After arriving in Granville County, Gutierrez found a job in the tobacco fields, working for the Barker family. Almost every dollar he made was sent back to Mexico to help support his parents and his siblings. He was soon invited by his adopted American family to attend church with them in Dexter. One hour after choir practice each Wednesday evening, he was also given lessons to learn to speak English. Although he describes the language as “difficult to learn,” he says that he is appreciative of the time and attention he was given by Mrs. Barker, who took him under her wing.
“Thank the Lord she was willing to help me,” he noted.
Those lessons helped open a lot of doors for Gutierrez, enabling him to apply for other employment opportunities. In 1986, Gutierrez became a permanent U.S. resident and continued to work hard for his family. Today, the 60-year-old works Monday through Friday for Granville County Government as a member of the General Services team, making repairs, running errands, sorting mail, etc. On weekends, he does maintenance and yard work for local residents, as well as cleaning offices.
“In America, if you work hard, you can have everything you want,” he explains. “I work hard, seven days a week. I don’t expect nothing for free.”
While his parents have both passed away since he has been here, his siblings and their families still live in Mexico. One of his brothers is now a teacher, and he has a sister who owns a store that sells school supplies. That store, Guitierrez explains, has helped provide income for his entire family.
Now nearing retirement, this Oxford resident is in the process of constructing a second home on a lot he purchased before coming to America, located next door to where his parents once lived in his “village.” A few times a year, he goes back to Mexico to spend time with his family there and to work on his house, which is being partially built with Granville County materials. He has shipped lumber from Bullock, for example, to build doors and window frames.
“Everything in Mexico is expensive,” he says. “Most of the people in my village only make about $25 a day, so it is a hard life there.”
Gutierrez adds that his family once owned property next to a Mexican river, where they were able to use irrigation to grow peaches, potatoes, lettuce, avocados, etc. The sale of the produce was their major source of income. The construction of a highway through his family’s property, however, caused them to be uprooted from their home and move to “the city,” where there was much poverty and no running water. They were given no compensation for their land and had to start over “with nothing.”
“Living in America is much better,” he says. “There have been many opportunities here for me.”
Gutierrez explains that he “behaves himself” and “commits no crimes,” and was able to become an official citizen in 2004.
In the process of earning his citizenship, Gutierrez says that he learned about the Constitution and the country’s presidents, as well as what the stars and stripes on the American flag symbolizes and other history facts.
“I learned that Patrick Henry said, ‘give me liberty or give me death,’” he adds. “That was my favorite part.”
Since moving to the United States, Gutierrez has started his own family, getting married in 2003. His wife Fatima, also from Mexico, is a permanent resident who is working towards citizenship status of her own. The couple has two children and hopes to visit Mexico more often after retirement. But his home, he says, is right here in Granville County.
“I am very happy with my life here,” he commented. “I came to America for a better life, and I got what I was looking for.”