[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in February 2007. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Marvin Lorenzana Marvin and Judge James G Welsh, who presided over the naturalization ceremony.

HARRISONBURG, Va. — As a pacifist, Marvin Lorenzana's application for citizenship was not exactly routine. One of the questions on the application for citizenship asks if you would be willing to bear arms to protect the United States. Marvin checked “No”.

During his interview with the INS, the officer asked him, “Would you really not bear arms and fight for this country?”

Marvin replied that he would not. The official, obviously curious, asked, “Do you mind if I ask you why not?”

Marvin said that he was a conscientious objector, but this was not enough for the official, who said, “I know that, but why?”

Marvin explained, “I don’t believe in killing a person who is made in God’s image, just as I have been made.”

The INS official said that he had never encountered anyone like this before and asked if there was a website where he could learn more about the Mennonite Church and this belief.

For a pacifist who desires to become a citizen however, this is not where the differences end. The oath of citizenship, which everyone who wants to be naturalized must repeat, contains the line, “I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.” However, the Lorenzanas were given the option to learn another line to insert here, or simply to remain silent, which is what Marvin did.

Missionaries to the United States

When Marvin Lorenzana came to the United States 13 years ago, he and his wife Marianna did not know they would stay, or that they would become citizens. They began their journey in New Orleans, La., as associate pastors of a Hispanic church.

As they moved around the southern United States, to El Paso, Texas, and Miami, Fla., they began to see that the Hispanic church needed them. They found that their Latin American brothers and sisters often lost their faith when they came to the United States. Often, the culture of wealth and work ran over their simple faith.

The Lorenzanas planted churches and worked with existing churches to develop leadership. Three years ago, Marvin and Marianna moved to Harrisonburg, Va so that Marvin could study at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS). Marvin also directs the LEAP program for high school youth at EMS.

Now with two children, Pablo, age 8, and Alexa, age 6, both U.S. citizens by birth, they decided the time was right to become U.S. citizens.

Becoming a Citizen

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is both simple and complex. Since Marvin and Marianna were legal resident aliens, they were eligible to become citizens after five years of residency in the United States. However, according to Marvin the timing was never right.

Part of that timing had to do with the expense. The Lorenzana’s spent around $1,800 to become citizens. They also needed to study 100 citizenship questions and go through a process that included an interview, fingerprinting and a background check.

Finally, on January 30, 2007, Marvin and Marianna joined 65 others in the Harrisonburg Courthouse where people from 23 countries and five continents became naturalized citizens of the United States. The judge admonished them that the United States is different, because, “You can move to France, but you can never be a Frenchman, and you can move to Japan, but you can never become Japanese. But you have moved to the United States and now you are Americans.”

Two Cultures

Although he is now a citizen, Marvin wants to hold on to his Honduran heritage. “Honduras is my roots. It is my culture. I learned to be a Christian in Honduras,” said Marvin, “but the U.S. represents my future. I received my higher education here, and my ministry has developed here. I live in both worlds.”

Marvin Lorenzana Marianna, Marvin, Alexa and Pablo celebrate Marvin and Marianna's citizenship

“I cherish my Hispanic heritage, at the same time, to work and be effective in this country you have to set aside some of those things you bring with you.”

Marvin struggles with two major differences between the United States. and Honduras. One has to do with time. “It sounds like a cliché,” he said, “but time is different here. When we say we’ll do something ‘right now’ in Honduras, it means we’ll do it eventually.”

A more pronounced difference has to do with privacy, personal space, and relationships. “People here safeguard their privacy. Privacy and personal space are so sacred here,” said Marvin. “You don’t know your neighbors and you even have to call to tell your mother when you’re coming over.” This is very different from Honduras, where Marvin said, “You look for excuses to be together.”

Passing on Two Cultures

“It’s difficult to teach our children about Honduran culture,” said Marvin. “The best way we do it is by taking them to visit, because you can talk about it and tell stories, but they don’t connect unless they’ve seen it.” The Lorenzanas take trips to Honduras as often as possible.

“I am still able to see how they are slowly but surely being assimilated into this culture. It’s kind of scary in a way, but I know that that’s the way it’s going to be and how can you help that not to happen.”

One way the Lorenzana’s work at keeping some of their Hispanic heritage is by speaking only Spanish in the home. “We will tell our kids 1,000 times if necessary. You have to be bilingual. You have to take advantage of influences from both cultures. It is not a handicap, it is an advantage. But for kids it’s hard to understand that.”

“I want my children to learn that whatever they have is a privilege,” said Marvin, “and that they need to work to earn what they have.” Marvin hopes that by reminding his children, and himself, of his Honduran heritage he will carry his Honduran roots into this American future.


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