By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
It was always Andres Huicochea’s plan to become an American citizen.
That dream became reality on Monday, Dec. 7.
Huicochea, the head of maintenance at Chase County Schools, was one of about 50 people at the naturalization ceremony in Lincoln.
He was surprised at last Thursday’s K-6 Christmas concert when, before the music began, Huicochea was called to the front of the audience by School Supt. Joey Lefdal.
With a bank of U.S. flags along the gym’s elevated track behind him, Lefdal announced Huicochea’s news that on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, Huicochea became a U.S. citizen.
He was presented an American flag to a loud round of applause from the audience.
Huicochea, a native of Morelos, Mexico, first came to the United States in 1984 on a work visa.
He’s held such work permits throughout much of his time in the U.S., where he has worked in Arizona, California and short stints in Colorado.
He said most of his years were spent working in the fields of Arizona with such crops as alfalfa, peppers, cauliflower, tomatoes and more.
From 1987-90, he toiled in the apple, orange and avocado orchards in San Bernadino, Calif.
“But none of those orchards are there now,” he said. “They are all new homes.”
After years of receiving work permits, in 2005 he was encouraged, he said, by immigration officials to apply to earn status as a resident.
In more recent years, he put his sights on becoming a citizen.
“I always liked it here (in the U.S.). American life was better,” he said.
“And, America has treated me better than my own country,” he added.
The task to become a citizen takes some work, he said, but he feels it’s a good process.
Applicants receive a book to study American history and 100 specific questions, he said. When ready, they meet with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials for the “test.”
The applicants must also be able to speak English well and write in English proficiently, he added.
During the test, the ICE official can ask any 10 of the 100 study questions, and the applicant must answer a minimum of six correctly.
In June, when Huicochea first took the test, he only scored five correct answers.
“They told me to go study some more,” he smiled.
He did, and in September, passed with flying colors.
He was one of two people with Mexican heritage at last week’s naturalization ceremony. Others becoming U.S. citizens that day were natives of China, Taiwan, Africa, Guatemala, Cuba and Pakistan, among others.
When in Arizona, he also worked for several school districts, where he said he learned many of the skills he uses today in his position at Chase County Schools, where he heads a staff of five people.
He learned of the position here through his in-laws, Trent and Angela Herbert. Huicochea’s wife Rhonda and Angela are sisters, and Angela’s husband, Trent, is 7-12 guidance counselor at CCS.
At the time, Huicochea was working in Tonopah, Ariz., at Arlington Public Schools in its maintenance department.
When he inquired about the CCS position in late 2012, he said he and his wife had some concerns about moving to a community in which they have never lived and if they would be accepted.
He said he never felt anything but welcome from the community.
“We are really happy here,” he said.
He and Rhonda met in Arizona, and have been married 20 years. Daughter Sabrina is in college in Utah, and daughter Becca is a CCS senior, who will finish her high school studies at the end of this semester. She also plans to attend college, he said.
They won’t be empty-nesters, though. They are also foster parents and are caring for two young children.