A memorable day for new US Citizen

Published 1:36 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Clark Curtis, For the Washington Daily News

It has been ten years of persistence and paperwork for 28-year-old Zuley Villarreal-Chavez to become a US citizen on Sept. 25, 2023. On Oct. 2, she registered to vote and is now eligible to cast her ballot in the upcoming November city elections. “I have dreamt of these two days since I was 18,” said Villarreal-Chavez, holding back her emotions. “As a US citizen, I now feel more protected than in my own country of Mexico,” said Villarreal-Chavez. “And to now be able to vote means so much to me. I finally have somewhere where my voice can be heard, and can now add one more number for something positive.”

For the last four years, Villarreal-Chavez has been working as a rehab tech at Ridgewood Rehabilitation and Living Center here in Washington. It was there that she met Tom Payne, one of her patients, a long-time elected official in Washington and a member of the Beaufort County Board of Elections for the last 12 years. Payne was so moved by her story of becoming a US citizen that he encouraged her to register to vote and helped to facilitate that happening. “I had no idea who Mr. Payne was or his background,” said Villarreal-Chavez.

For the director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections, Kellie Harris Hopkins, October 2 was a very emotional and memorable day for her, as well. “I was totally touched when Tom told me her story,” said Hopkins. “It did my heart good to hear her story and all that she had to go through for this day to finally come about. Being here today, and watching her fill out the registration form was one of the best days I have had in a long time. It just brought it all home for me once again. As American citizens, we often take for granted our right to vote. A right that Zuley has worked long and hard to achieve over the last ten years,” as her eyes began to water.

Villarreal-Chavez admitted it has been a long and challenging journey since deciding to become a US citizen at the age of 18, but she was bound and determined to accomplish that dream. “I know people who have given up during the process and were happy to just have a resident card,” said Villarreal-Chavez. “I always wanted to keep pushing to succeed and one day become a citizen and have the right to vote. I encourage everyone who has that right to go out and do so. Be thankful that you have that right and do not take it for granted. I believe every vote matters, which is one thing I will teach my children.”

And is it finally time to celebrate? “Oh yes, I’m going to celebrate,” she exclaimed with a huge laugh of relief and one beaming smile.