HURLEYVILLE — In a small ceremony in a Monticello court room earlier this month, 24-year-old Juanita Sarmiento and twenty-five others were sworn in as citizens of the United States. It was a long and expensive process, but Juanita is both excited and relieved to now be naturalized as a US citizen.
"I've always wanted to get my citizenship for education and work-related reasons," said Juanita. "And also because I love being here in America, and I hold dear the ideals that this country stands for."
Juanita first came to the United States with her mom from Colombia in 1996 when she was 3. Juanita and her family, she said, first left Colombia in the 1960s when things became economically bad in the South American nation. "The US offered better economic and education opportunities," she said, "and while I love America, I also love Colombia — its culture, food and music. I love them both."
The family first settled in Connecticut; then, when Juanita was five, they moved to Monticello. The Monticello schools kept putting her into ESL classes, although she regards English as her first language. After five years in Monticello, the family moved to Hurleyville.
After graduating from Fallsburg High School, Juanita went to the Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated with a degree in biology. She is now a veterinary assistant helping and healing both agricultural and domestic animals in Monticello. She said her passion is working with animals, and she hopes one day to work for the Department of Environmental Conservation.
"I believe the government is a great place to work to be able to help where you see fit," said Juanita. "That for me is working in conservation, with public health and the DEC. I'd like to do research for them as well as the wildlife conservation society. I aspire to be the next Jane Goodall or Steve Irwin — I love what they've done! It is super cool!"
Juanita is also a member of the Mid-Hudson Misfits roller derby team, which practices and bouts out of Skate Time 209, in Accord. When asked what she enjoys about roller derby, she replied, "Everything! The people, the community, and being able to put pent-up energy into intense physical activity."
Although she didn't vote this year as she didn't have time to register, it's a responsibility she's very much looking forward to. "It's a great relief to be fully naturalized," she said.