By Miriam Kavanaagh
Fireworks and backyard barbecues will most likely be the celebration of choice for Independence Day this Sunday, but for Lake Anna resident Rosa Wittenburg, the holiday will be extra special.
Just three short weeks ago, Rosa was sworn in as a citizen of the United States in a ceremony held in a Richmond courtroom.
Rosa came to Washington, D.C. from Managua, Nicaragua in March of 1984 to work as a Nicaraguan embassy housekeeper and nanny for Constantino and Jolanda Tapia.
During her time in America, Rosa met Wayne Wittenburg, an American who maintained the grounds of the Tapia house, and who would later become her husband.
Rosa spoke no English and Wayne spoke no Spanish, but using Mrs. Tapia as a translator, he was able to ask Rosa on a date.
A year later, the president of Nicaragua said that it was time for the Tapia family and Rosa to return.
Before Rosa left for her home country, she spent Christmas with her aunt in California at which time Wayne asked her to marry him. Rosa said that she could not marry him because she needed to discuss the matter with her family and she was only in America to represent the embassy.
They exchanged address and phone numbers and he wrote to her in English and she wrote to him in Spanish. Phone conversations were conducted with a bilingual friend present to translate.
Lillian Clifford, a common friend of the two, translated for them on Wayne’s end in Maryland. Another marriage proposal was made through Clifford, and this time Rosa said yes.
Despite opposition from her mother, Rosa’s father said that she was old enough to make her own decisions.
Because of a brewing revolution in Nicaragua, Wayne could not come to her country, so a marriage by proxy was held on November 20, 1986.
On Valentine’s Day in 1987, Wayne went to Nicaragua to bring Rosa to the states. The American Embassy would not let her into the country without a great deal of documentation.
Preparing all of Rosa’s documents took about six months, and then a final interview was conducted to ensure that her marriage was not an excuse for her to live in America.
In October of 1987, she received a green card, which allowed her temporary residence in America. It took one full year of marriage before she received permanent residence.
Her new resident status did not afford her the rights of citizenship, such as voting, getting an American passport or being allowed to work for the government.
The Wittenburg family lived in Maryland for three years before moving to Missouri. While in Maryland, Rosa began taking English classes, and continued her studies when the family moved.
In July of 1996, the Wittenburgs moved to Lake Anna, and, after seeing a notice in The Central Virginian for English as a second language (ESL) classes in Fluvanna, Rosa was able to continue her studies here.
Last year, Rose made the decision to become an American citizen.
“My children were born here,” said Rosa explaining her decision. “I like it here and my husband’s American.”
Rosa’s ESL teacher, Gayle VonKeyserling, privately taught Rosa what she would need to know to pass her citizenship examination. Citizenship did not come free. Rosa paid $20 per hour for VonKeyserling’s tutorial for two hours every Wednesday for nearly one year.
With the prayers of the Louisa Methodist Church and a star spangled desire to become an American citizen, Rosa’s dream was realized when she passed her citizenship test in April.
Along with 20 other people, Rosa took the oath of American citizenship on June 16, in Richmond.
For Rosa, the day was emotional. She had to renounce her Nicaraguan citizenship, and she was asked if she would fight for America, even if it was a conflict against her homeland.
Rosa answered a solid, “Yes.”
“I like the Constitution, free speech and how they treat people,” said Rose of the advantages of being American.
Among everything Rosa was taught, the right to vote was stressed as the most important.
“You cannot participate in the country (without the right to vote),” said Rosa.
Wayne is retired and Rosa works at Food Lion in Louisa. They have three children, John 11, Sara, 9, and Mary, 7.
Rosa is looking forward to voting in her first election and getting her American passport.
She still studies English and is pursuing her GED in Fluvanna.
Reprinted from the Thursday, July 1, 1999 edition of The Central Virginian.