There was a time in his life — it turns out, most of his life — when Marco Alva felt like a man without a country. He had become separated by time and distance from Mexico and the culture of his native country, and, while he had married an American and started a family here, he was not yet a citizen of the United States. Sunday morning in Annapolis, the feeling of being adrift went away.
On the Fourth of July, Marco Alva became an American. He and 36 other men and women took the oath of citizenship at the annual naturalization ceremony at the William Paca House, home of one of Maryland's signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Twenty-five years ago, Alva arrived in California from Mexico with his parents. His father stayed a week and decided to go home. His mother stayed one week longer, then joined her husband in their native country. "It was very hard," Alva says, "but I decided to stay." He was just 15.
He lived with his grandmother, went to school and did what so many immigrants from Mexico did back then — and all the years since and still do today — he washed dishes and bused tables in restaurants. He worked as a preparation cook, too, and eventually found jobs as a waiter and head waiter. With his American wife, he moved to Maryland along the way and started taking courses — in American studies, no less — at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He kept working in restaurants, in some as a manager. Many a day started at 4 a.m., he says, and went long into the night.
Alva earned a bachelor's degree six years ago and now works as a marketing executive for USG Corp., or U.S. Gypsum, the manufacturer of construction materials. He lives with his family in Annapolis.
"I didn't feel complete," Alva said of his citizen status. "I wasn't from there [Mexico] anymore, and I was not yet a citizen here. They say a man without a country is a man without a heart. Now I feel complete. I am here to stay. This is home."
Karen Hughes-Aikens, who emigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad eight years ago, also became a citizen on the Fourth. Like Alva, she had married an American and, while life was good as a permanent resident, citizenship, she says, has a greater reward. "I can vote now," says Hughes-Aikens, a phlebotomist at Southern Maryland Hospital in Prince George's County. "I feel very privileged. It was a special day for me and a special day for America."