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Gainesville business owner becomes a US citizen
Cristina Covarrubias, 11, adoringly takes the American flag her father, Jose Covarrubias, 37, was given after taking an oath of citizenship Wednesday. Covarrubias, originally from Michoacan, Mexico, came to the United States when he was 17 years old. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

President Barack Obama made history by taking an oath on Tuesday, but the oath Jose Covarrubias took Wednesday in Atlanta made Jan. 21 a big day for him.

Covarrubias, the Mexican-born owner of Carniceria La Superior, put his right hand in the air and officially became a citizen of the United States on Wednesday.

"When I w(o)ke up this morning... I was thinking to myself ‘Oh, today is the big day. Today is my big day,’" Covarrubias, 37, said.

Covarrubias’ swearing in did not involve nearly the pomp and circumstance displayed in Obama’s inaugural the day before.

The owner of the Gillsville Highway meat market spent the morning placing orders for his store before driving alone to Atlanta to take his oath of allegiance.

If he could have had a parade, Covarrubias would have taken his daughter, son and wife to the ceremony.

But Alejandra Covarrubias, who encouraged her husband to apply for citizenship, had to take care of the store and the couple’s children needed to be in school, Jose Covarrubias said.

Jose Covarrubias became naturalized without his family by his side, but daughter Cristina was the first to greet him at the door of Carniceria La Superior when he returned.

With a shy smile on her face — one of pride — Cristina, who helped her father study for his citizenship test, reached first for the tiny American flag her father had been given at the immigration office.

"I’m happy," she said.

Covarrubias’ journey to become a citizen began in late 1988, when he first visited his father in Gainesville. His father, employed by Fieldale, helped Covarrubias land a job in the poultry company’s Murrayville plant. Other than two years in his hometown of Michoacan, Mexico, and five years in Chicago where he met his wife, Covarrubias has been a Gainesville resident ever since.

His is a bootstraps kind of story.

After working years in chicken plants and as a machinist at an equipment company, Covarrubias saved enough money to purchase property near Harmony Church Road on Gillsville Highway and start his own business, a meat market and convenience store, in August 2006.

He said he has had to work 15-hour days to make it work, but Covarrubias’ store has survived.

"I’ve been doing well, because I work a lot," he said.

The survival of his business is one of the factors that prompted Covarrubias to apply for citizenship in September. His wife, Alejandra, was another.

"She told me ‘you speak English, so you can do it,’" Covarrubias remembered.

Now that he is a citizen, Covarrubias plans to encourage his wife, a permanent resident, to begin the naturalization process, but Covarrubias’ accomplishments ought to be encouragement to even more immigrants who are intimidated by the naturalization process, said his friend and business associate Doug Harrison..

"There are so many, so many ... men as good as he is and ... would just love to be in the place he is today, taking that oath, you know, and get through the red tape of getting to that position, you know, it’s unbelievable — unbelievable," Harrison said. "Anybody ought to be inspired by it — to accomplish what he has."

Aside from all the privileges — the right to vote and hold a federal job — Covarrubias’ new status did not seem to change much about the shop-owner’s life.

After his ceremony, Covarrubias returned to work on Gillsville Highway and said he did not feel much different than he had before he took his oath.

He did feel something, however.

"I feel more proud, because I’m living in this country and I’m working at what I like to do, running my business, and I feel happy," Covarrubias said.

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