LOS ANGELES — A 102-year-old Filipino man who came to the U.S. as a youth in 1928 to pick vegetables became a citizen during a touching naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles.
“I’m happy,” Philippines-born Joaquin Arciago Guzman said in his native Tagalog after Wednesday’s ceremony, where about 7,300 joined him in taking the citizenship oath.
Only 27 people older than 100 have become citizens in the past 50 years, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“It’s extremely rare to see anyone over 100,” said Nancy Alby, the agency’s field office director for Los Angeles County. “We get a handful in their 90s and 80s. It’s more common to see people in their 70s.”
The oldest person ever to become a citizen was Manik Bokchalian. She was 117 when she took the oath in 1997.
Guzman’s niece and caregiver helped him out of a wheelchair to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
“I’m happy for him. There are no words,” niece Julie Guzman said in Tagalog.
Guzman’s daughter-in-law Elizabeth Guzman regretted that Guzman’s wife, Paz, did not live to see the ceremony. She was 89 when she died in 2007.
“It’s sad because she waited many years for him to become a citizen,” Elizabeth said in Tagalog. “But I believe she’s looking down on us now, and she’s happy.”
Guzman left the Philippines to harvest lettuce and cabbage in the fertile fields south of San Francisco.
He returned to the Philippines and married Paz Irene Gatchalian, the came back to the United States before the birth of the first of their six children.
Guzman brought his wife and two of their adult children to the United States in 1984. They became American citizens, but Guzman waited to submit an application for reasons that aren’t clear.