New citizens excited to vote for first time
One of the first things three people with ties to the Aspen area did after officially becoming U.S. citizens Wednesday was register to vote.
“It makes you a part of the community,” said Lina Maldaikyte, who is originally from Lithuania. “It’s the reason one wants to be a citizen.
“I’m looking forward to voting — and absolutely for sure not for (Donald) Trump.”
Victoria Barrena, originally from Canada, said she registered to vote immediately following citizenship ceremonies Wednesday morning in Grand Junction.
“I felt like, ‘Oh good, I can vote,’” she said. “It’s very important. And this crazy election (is happening) right when I can vote for the first time.”
John Lezama of Peru — also registered to vote immediately following the citizenship ceremony and said he was ready to cast his ballot.
All three have lived and worked in the Aspen area almost from the moment they arrived in the United States years ago.
Maldaikyte said she spent her first three months in America on the East Coast before reading about Aspen in a travel guidebook.
“It said there were bears running through the streets,” she said. “The description sounded amazing. I don’t know who wrote it, but it changed my life.”
When she arrived in town in 2000, it was “love at first sight,” Maldaikyte said, adding that Aspen is geographically similar to Lithuania.
“It was the most beautiful place I’d ever visited,” she said. “It has so much to offer.”
Since then, Maldaikyte, who lives in town, said she’s worked at several local hotels and now works at both the Aspen Art Museum and the Zadig and Voltaire clothing store. Now that she’s a citizen, she said she’s happy she can stay as long as she wants.
“I certainly don’t have to leave if I don’t want to,” she said.
Lezama, who lives in Carbondale but works at Clark’s Market in Aspen, also arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley in 2000. He said he came to the area because his father was living in the valley.
“It’s totally different from my country,” Lezama said. “It’s safe, … and there’s more chances to make money.”
Lezama has spent the past 12 years at Clark’s and also works at Aspen Tan next door to the market. He said he first applied to become a citizen three years ago after waiting eight years to obtain a green card.
“I’m very happy about (becoming a citizen),” Lezama said. “I feel more a part of the country now.”
Barrena said she’s lived in Aspen for 18 years since coming to the U.S. from Canada. She previously owned the Zele coffee shop downtown and has worked as a real estate broker.
Now semi-retired and an official citizen, Barrena said she’s most looking forward to voting and having the freedom to come and go from the United States when she pleases, which will allow her to travel back to Canada to take care of her elderly mother.
“It’s peace of mind and a real commitment to being part of this country,” she said. “I’m very happy to be here. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Maldaikyte said she was too emotional to speak during Wednesday’s ceremony in Grand Junction. But once she arrived back in Aspen, she celebrated with oysters and champagne at the Ajax Tavern.
“I feel great,” she said. “It took a few hours to settle in. I feel more relaxed now and maybe feel more a part of (the community).”
In order to become citizens, applicants must be 18 years old; be a permanent, green card-holding resident; have lived in the U.S. for a minimum of five years; be a person of “good moral character; be able to read, speak and write English; know about U.S. government and history; and be willing to take an oath of allegiance, according to a release from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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