On “Super Tuesday,” as voters across the country prepared to cast ballots in their state’s primary election or gather to caucus for the candidate of their choice, the day was starting out a little differently for one La Center resident.
By 7 a.m., Tuesday, March 1, 33-year-old Claudia Gordon, the owner of Claudia’s Beauty Salon in La Center, was weaving her way through heavy morning traffic, heading toward downtown Portland. Beside her was a woman she hadn’t known very long — a salon customer who had taken an interest in Gordon’s immigration story.
The customer wanted to help Gordon, a Mexican immigrant who had married a U.S. Navy veteran and was raising two young boys in La Center, get to her early morning appointment at the Portland branch of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. March 1 was the day that Gordon would take her citizenship test. The day, she hoped, that she could finally exhale a sigh of relief and go to bed knowing that she could legally stay in her husband’s home country.
“I was so nervous,” Gordon remembers. “My customer, she had offered to come with me, to be there for me. My husband, he had to stay home with the kids.”
As the women made their way through heavy traffic on Interstate 5, Gordon tried to calm her nerves. She had been studying so hard, working to remember all of the dates and names and places and figures from her U.S. history courses, but you never know how you’ll do on a test until you’re right there, in front of someone, answering questions you’ve committed to memory.
By the time the women were walking into the Portland branch of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services office, Gordon was ready. She had worked hard for this moment — taking weekly classes in addition to working full-time at her salon and caring for her 11-year-old and 4-year-old sons, Francisco and Ashton. She had taught herself how to speak English, put herself through beauty school while working night shifts at the casinos, and even taught herself how to drive a stickshift through heavy Clark County traffic. She could do this.
“When they gave me the oral exam, they started asking questions, but they stopped after only six, because I answered them correctly,” Gordon says. “I had studied for 100 questions, but I only had to answer six!”
Having passed all of her exams with flying colors, Gordon’s journey toward U.S. citizenship was complete.
“I was so relieved,” Gordon says. “It was a good feeling.”
Back in La Center that evening, Gordon’s husband Kenneth, a U.S. Navy veteran, their two sons, friends and neighbors gathered to celebrate Gordon’s accomplishment.
“I have had so many people, total strangers, wishing me luck and telling me they are proud of me and that I could do this,” Gordon says, shaking her head at the level of support her La Center neighbors have shown her. “I can’t believe how good people have been to me,” Gordon says. “They come in and tell me, ‘You can do this.’”
One neighbor, La Center City Councilor Joe Valenzuela and his wife have been especially supportive, Gordon says. And the wife of the town’s police chief even baked Gordon a special red-white-and-blue cake to celebrate her citizenship. Customers showed up at the salon with flowers and balloons and words of encouragement. On her Facebook page, when Gordon posted a photo of herself at her U.S. Immigration and Naturalization ceremony, nearly 100 people applauded her achievements.
The journey has not always been so easy, though. Gordon says she never considered becoming a U.S. citizen until her mother decided to move from their hometown in San Gabriel Mixtepec, Mexico, when Gordon was just a teenager. At first, in Washington state and away from her father, older sister, grandmother and childhood friends, Gordon didn’t want to stay in the states.
“I wanted to go back to Mexico,” she says.
But her mother needed her, so Gordon found odd jobs — folding laundry for a cleaning company and working in the casinos in La Center — and eventually she fell in love and had her first son, Francisco. When the relationship with Francisco’s father ended, Gordon knew she needed to find a career that would be more stable and give her time to be a mother, too. For more than two years, she went to cosmetology school all day, picked Francisco up from daycare, delivered him to her mother’s house, then went to work in the cardrooms in La Center. It was a grueling schedule, but she succeeded, earning her cosmetology license and going to work for hair salons in the Vancouver metro area. By then, Gordon had met her husband, Kenneth, a La Center native, and the two married in 2010. Ashton was born the next year.
By the time Ashton was born, Gordon was several steps into her long journey toward becoming a U.S. citizen. But then, the government made her return to Mexico and wait several months before allowing her to re-enter the U.S. legally. She brought her sons and stayed with family, waiting to be reunited with her husband and able to start their life in La Center. In 2013, Gordon came back to the U.S., legally this time, and started the last phase of her citizenship.
Today, the family lives in a home Kenneth inherited from his father, and Gordon runs a small beauty salon out of an attached shop on the side of the house. Gordon misses her family, especially her mother, Elvira, who returned to Mexico several years ago, and says she hope to someday apply for citizenship for her mother, so she can move to La Center and get to know her grandchildren.
On March 7, Gordon registered to vote in Washington state. Discussing candidate options, Gordon says the reigning Republican candidate, Donald Trump, scares her with his extreme views on immigrants: “He reminds me of Hitler,” she says, shaking her head. “There aren’t a lot of good options (for candidates), but voting is my duty.”