It was a long road, but just over a year ago, on November 18, 2016 Salvador Orona, a longtime Casa Cerrillos resident, became an American citizen.
The oldest child in a family of eight from Delicias, Chihuahua, Salvador left home at 15 seeking work. He arrived in the United States in 1963, shortly after the Kennedy assassination, picking apples in Washington, harvesting hops for a brewery and doing other agricultural work, all the time sending some of his wages back to his family in Mexico.
He returned often to Mexico, but always came back to the United States where jobs were more plentiful. For many years he worked as a cowboy for the W Cattle Company in Texas, where he obtained his residency papers in 1988 during an amnesty program under President Reagan.
Salvador was very close to the family that ran the ranch, and when the owner died in 1993, he decided it was time to leave. A friend told him about Santa Fe and how good its climate was – not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer – so he moved here.
“There was always work – gardening, restaurants, cleaning jobs – and it was easy to meet people and make new friends,” he recalls. “Some of us would go in together and rent an apartment.”
Things were fine until 2009 when he began to have serious problems. with his leg and foot. Unable to work or pay rent, he lost his apartment and began living in an old car for a few months until he came to St. Elizabeth Shelter.
“I was Salvador’s case manager when he arrived,” Shane Lampman says. “He was in a lot of pain, could hardly walk and his foot was atrophying. I contacted the Social Security Administration and after looking into his work and payment records they awarded him $170 a month in early retirement income. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get him an apartment at Casa Cerrillos, St. Elizabeth’s supportive housing program for adults with disabilities."
Next on the agenda was medical care. Doctors at La Familia diagnosed a circulatory problem and referred Salvador to a specialist, but no one at the specialist’s office could speak Spanish well enough or Salvador enough English to communicate sufficiently. So Shane stepped in, accompanying Salvador to the specialist and translating his symptoms and medical history.
An ultrasound on his leg identified a blockage restricting blood circulation, and a successful surgery solved the problem. All this time Shane continued to work on Salvador’s case with Social Security, nd in 2011 he was awarded SSI (Social Security Supplemental Income) as well to raise his monthly total to $750.
“St. Elizabeth has helped me a lot,” Salvador says. “It’s connected me with doctors and healthcare and provided me an apartment to live in. Casa Cerrillos is a great location with many stores nearby. I’ve been here for eight years now, have made some good friends and am very happy.”
Salvador is also proud of what he has accomplished. “I’ve never had an encounter with the police,” he says.“ My record is clean and that helped me obtain my U.S.citizenship. After all these years, becoming an American citizen was very important to me.”
Coincidentally, Shane, now program manager at Casa Cerrillos and reunited with Salvador, confirms this.“
Obtaining his American citizenship after all theseyears was a big event for Salvador,” Shane says, “and his fellow Casa Cerrillos residents held a party to celebrate his success. The fact that he remembers the great milestones of his life by who was president of the United States at that time – when he first arrived, when he got his residency – shows how much living and working here has meant to him.”
Salvador seconds this assessment.“America has always helped me, and I love the country,” he says.” But there will always be a special place in my heart for Mexico. Now with my citizenship, I will be able to visit my family and old friends there soon, but will be coming back here to live.”
This article originally appeared in our our Summer 2017 Newsletter. To view our latest newsletter click here.