Taking the Test: Christiansburg Resident Becomes a Citizen in Time to Vote

Leo Rosales voted for the first time on Wednesday. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

October 25, 2020

After moving to the United States 28 years ago, one Guatemalan man just marked his first ballot.

CHRISTIANSBURG – When Leonel “Leo” Rosales saw the “vote here” sign outside of his polling place on Wednesday, the Christiansburg man stopped. That’s precisely where he took a patriotic photo.

Sure, many people take pictures donning their “I voted” sticker, but for Rosales, the photo signified more than a social media opportunity.

Proudly performing his American right, Rosales voted for the very first time last week.

Life changes

Rosales grew up in Guatemala. However, his wife, Carmen Rosales, was from Michigan. The two met when Carmen moved to Guatemala to teach English. The couple fell in love and married each other in Guatemala in 1991. They remained in the country for about a year and a half.

When the couple first moved to America, they moved back to a state Carmen knew well.

“We were in Michigan for six years and we had our three kids there,” Leo said. “They were born in Lancing, Michigan.”

However, the climate wasn’t like Guatemala.

“That was too cold for me,” Leo said. “Then we moved to Virginia in 1999. You still have the four seasons.”

In Virginia, Leo stuck with a career that he enjoyed. He now works for Duncan’s Hokie Honda in Christiansburg. Total, he’s been in the car business for 32 years.

Becoming a citizen

While having a successful life in the states, Leo remained a Guatemalan citizen for years – decades, even. For 28 years, Leo lived in a country that he called home and raised a family in, but was not officially a part of himself.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“It took time and also takes money,” Leo said.

We’ve detailed the issues involved with becoming a citizen before. In September, a federal judge stepped in to prevent the Trump administration from increasing the costs even more.

This year, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Leo decided to pursue the process. However, naturalization in 2020 wasn’t an easy, straightforward road. He traveled hours, multiple times, pursuing his citizenship.

Leo’s determination kept the process moving forward.

“It took a little time, especially this year. I wanted to be able to vote before the election. But with the COVID, the office where I had to go was in Virginia Beach,” Leo said. “I had to go there three times and then two times to West Virginia.”

Three weeks ago, Leo’s plan came to fruition. He officially became a United States citizen, after living and working in the United States for 28 years.

“I say if someone needs a little push to do whatever they have to do to finalize your citizenship, just to go ahead and finish it,” Leo said. “Then you are an American.”

Family drove Leo’s motivation 

Getting to vote wasn’t Leo’s only motivation for becoming a citizen this year. He also wanted to be a citizen in the same country as his first grandchild.

“I was supposed to meet the baby November 7, but it came earlier. It came this Sunday,” Leo said. “Now I’m a grandfather.”

The early arrival of his first grandchild changed Leo’s voting plans. He and his wife hurried to the polls on Wednesday, taking advantage of Virginia’s new early voting opportunity. Carmen plans to spend time with their daughter as she adjusts to motherhood.

“If we wanted to vote together, we needed to vote together [on Wednesday],” Leo said. “That’s why we decided to do it early, me and my wife, because I don’t know if she’s going to be away on November 3.”

Leo also noted that on Election Day, he expected crowds at the polls.

The right to vote

Now an American citizen and registered voter, Leo plans to vote in every United States election henceforth.

“It feels great because then I can be part of the process. Every vote counts. I want to be counted. I want to be able to at least have a say,” Leo said. “Some people, they can, and they do not vote. They can’t say anything about it.”

Casting his ballot, Leo joined the ranks of those making a difference.

“Because then they have their right to ask for answers,” Leo said.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


Local News

Related Stories
Share This