Islanders who remember when Maria Serano seemed to practically live at Maria’s Kitchen may have wondered where she’s been at times over the past year while others have been minding the store.
The answer is a combination of factors. Her business at the corner of Jaspa and North Ferry roads is thriving to the point where she’s hired enough personnel to manage the eatery. But she’s also spent part of her days studying to become a United States citizen, a goal she accomplished on Valentine’s Day.
She kept her studies under wraps, concerned about embarrassment if she failed the test necessary to accomplishing her goal. But last weekend, she posted a picture on Facebook with her children, showing off the certificate that confirms she is now a United States citizen.
“You feel like a different person,” she said. “I’m so proud.”
Ms. Serano can now travel to her native Mexico without the anxiety of being stopped at border crossings. Even though she was living and working here legally, she wouldn’t have been the first person wrongly detained, she said,
The freedom she now feels has encouraged many of her Latino friends to consider seeking citizenship, she said. Closer to home, a brother and sister living in Brooklyn are now taking steps to become naturalized.
Ms. Serano’s been something of an ombudsman for others during worrisome days on the East End when crackdowns on the immigrant population occurred over the past two years.
She’s also been a contributor to the wider Island community, providing food for school events and other special programs.
Gaining citizenship hasn’t come without stress. “I was so nervous,” she recalled about the day of the test. Besides having to answer a number of multiple choice questions, she had to demonstrate that she could both read and write in English.
After being told she had passed her citizenship test, “I went outside and started crying,” she said.
Her life in the United States began in New York City 23 years ago, following in the footsteps of other relatives who relocated from Mexico to the city, operating delis and grocery stores.
She first came to Shelter Island in 2002, a place she now admits seemed too quiet for her.
But Ms. Serano grew to love the Island. She eventually married here and gave birth to two children — Daniel, 15, and Margaret, 14 — before deciding the marriage wasn’t working for her. She divorced, and began taking jobs cleaning houses, baby sitting and working as a waitress at parties.
That’s when she also became a right hand to Jen diPretoro, who operated Greeny’s on Jaspa Road.
When Ms. diPretoro opted to close the natural food store in January 2012, Ms. Serano didn’t miss a beat, taking a lease on the space the following month.
It meant working days at Maria’s Kitchen and nights at her other jobs, but, she said, she had to ensure her children’s needs would be met.
“It was to give a better life to them and to myself,” she said about what drove her through demanding days and nights when she was starting the business. She now can afford to send her children to college.
Asked what inspired her to become a citizen, Ms. Serano said her motivation was as simple as it is profound. “I want to vote,” Ms. Serano she said. “I want my voice to be heard.”
Could you pass this test?
To become a United States citizen, an immigrant must renounce loyalty to his or her country of birth, demonstrate a working knowledge of English, show an understanding of vocabulary and be prepared to answer several civics and history questions selected from 100 that are provided for study purposes.
The applicant must also be up to date on circumstances that might have changed since the preparation questions were issued. For example, if an election has been held, someone who represented the state in Congress may not be the same person listed as the answer to a question about who currently represents the state. Also, legislation may have changed on a given issue, so an immigrant seeking to become a U.S. citizen must be aware of current events.
Here are some questions a person applying for citizenship might be asked:
1) What does the Constitution do?
2) The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
3) How many amendments does the Constitution have?
4) What is the economic system in the United States?
5) Name one of the two senators who represents your state in Congress.
6) The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
7)Why do some states have more representatives than other states?
8) If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?
9) Name two Cabinet-level positions?
10) Name three of the 13 original states.
1) Sets up and defines government and protects basic rights of Americans.
2) We the People.
4) Capitalist or market economy
5) Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
7) The number of members is determined by the state’s population
8) Speaker of the House.
9) Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Homeland Security and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
10) Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia.
How did you do?