Harriet Ludwig: A new American

Published: Monday, January 3, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 at 11:53 p.m.

After writing about civil rights problems of minorities for 46 years, I have a critical attitude about our so-called land of the free. Then I meet an immigrant who has chosen to apply for American citizenship after a lifetime study of countries different from his native Peru.

Jackson Arriola's dream came true Dec. 15 at a naturalization ceremony at Jacksonville's Homeland Security facility. He added his American citizenship celebration to the season's other holiday events.

"I am so happy," he told me. "All my experiences in this country have shown me that here people respect the rights of other people. I like the schools my two grandchildren attend. They are getting an education that is efficient and practical."

Eight of his Peruvian relatives attended a barbecue celebration of his citizenship.

Arriola grew up in Lima, capital of Peru, the son of an officer in the Peruvian Navy. He works now at a Walgreens, known for its excellent customer service.

On the day I overloaded my walker with purchases, he volunteered to help me. He loaded a store carrier with my packages and walked the two blocks to my apartment with the supply.

I thought that degree of customer service deserved a lunch at my home. That's when I learned about his study of world living conditions.

"I always wanted to know about different countries," he told me. "After I graduated from high school, I joined the Peruvian navy and worked in a radar unit for 10 years. I had read a lot of books on different cultures, I could see that the only way to advance in Peru was to learn different ways."

The Peruvian navy, and later the American Navy, provided a real education for Arriola. At age 19 he was a seaman, finally seeing the world he had read about. He was also studying English.

Then, in 1965, the U.S. Navy offered a scholarship test to 60 Peruvian seamen. The test was in advanced electronics and English.

Arriola was one of two who passed the test. He, his wife Martha and three children went to live in San Mateo, Calif., while he studied English and advanced electronics at a Treasure Island school.

His daughter, Kathy, was born in the San Francisco area, the one American citizen of his children.

By 1970 he was an electronics instructor in the Peruvian Navy and was seeing the countries of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and the Galapagos Islands. Morocco, Spain, England, Germany and France are other countries where he has been occupied with electronic equipment maintenance for the Navy.

"I read books about other countries to my children," he said. "I taught them that it was important to see another world than their own country, another people, another culture.

"We read the National Geographic and American Scientific magazines. I wanted them to know how many important scientists and teachers and world leaders this country has. I told them study is like exercise to build muscles, only it builds knowledge."

His children all took his advice about education. Sons Jackson, Jr. (a degree in mining from San Marcos, Canada) and Ricardo (a degree in agriculture from LaMolina University) are back in Peru. So is his daughter Ines (an attorney, also from San Marcos).

Kathy, who has done most of her growing up in the U.S., has earned her PhD in animal science at the University of Florida.

It's a close family. The parents came to Gainesville to help Kathy take care of her two children while she was a student.

It's likely that Kathy will accept a job in Illinois, and he will have another area to study and teach his grandchildren about.

Arriola has applied for electronics work several times, without success. He showed me his citizenship application with pride. I have no doubt that he will be a good citizen.

Harriet Ludwig is a retired journalist who lives in Gainesville.

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