By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Independence Day will be a little bit sweeter this year for Candido Lopez of Pontotoc. Lopez passed his citizenship test in May and will take the oath as a citizen in Oxford next week.
“All my family is happy,” said Lopez, who works at Kelly’s Kars in Pontotoc.
The family includes his wife, Joana; his children, Jasmine, 8; Angel, 6; Jesus, 4; and Stephanie, 3 months. All children were born in the U.S., and Joana has permanent resident status.
He also has two brothers, two sisters, his parents and cousins, aunts and uncles. Most of the family has been in Northeast Mississippi, but others are scattered around the United States.
From its beginning, the United States has a proud history of immigrants making a new home in a new world. Lopez said his family came to the United States for the same reasons as those earlier groups of immigrants.
“They came for a better life, better jobs,” Lopez said, noting that $1 is worth 13 Mexican pesos.
From MEX to MS
Sweet potatoes brought Lopez to Mississippi from San Luis Potosi in central Mexico. His uncles and cousins encouraged him to join them in Vardaman in 1993.
In 1998, he was seriously injured in a car wreck in Calhoun County and spent six months in the hospital. He was in a coma and ended up losing both legs below the knee.
North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo provided charity care, and the congregation at St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Pontotoc raised money to buy his first set of prosthetic legs, Lopez said.
Eventually, he made the jump to furniture work for Magnolia Furniture and worked there for about a decade. The company’s owners helped him receive permanent resident status.
Now he works for friend Kelly Luther at Kelly’s Kars.
“I’ve always liked to do mechanic’s jobs,” Lopez said.
Last year, after a cousin became a citizen, some members of his family told Lopez he wouldn’t be able to become a citizen because it was too hard.
“I said ‘Yes, I can, too,’” Lopez said.
The process of becoming a citizen has taken Lopez about two years. The citizenship test was difficult and required a lot of studying.
“They ask about American history, the Civil War, presidents, elections and voting,” Lopez said. “It’s 100 questions.”
Lopez had to update his study guide after the November elections.
“It says ‘George W. Bush,’ but I wrote Obama,” he said.
Twice-weekly English classes with instructors Mary Stacy and Linda Burleson offered by Itawamba Community College at St. Christopher’s Church also were helpful.
When he started the classes, he said, “I can speak some English, but I can’t write.”
Lopez and his wife have been committed students, even as they juggle full-time jobs and four small children. English can be a difficult language because it’s so irregular, but Lopez seems to avoid negative thoughts.
“He has a great attitude; it’s so refreshing,” Stacy said.
Lopez said his older children weren’t quite sure what to make of his studies.
“Why are you going to school, Daddy?” Lopez said his kids would sometimes ask him. “You’re big.”
Lopez said he feels great pride at becoming a citizen of the United States and knows it opens lots of opportunities, including the ability to help his parents.
He has no plans to move from Pontotoc. He’s been in Chicago, Dallas and Houston through the years and knows he prefers the country.
“I’ve been here for 10 years, it feels like home,” Lopez said. “There’s good people here, good friends.”