2nd Time a Charm for New Citizen

Times Staff Writer

An El Sereno man who, for nearly four decades, mistakenly believed he was a U.S. citizen finally became one Wednesday.

A beaming Martin Velasquez Venegas pledged allegiance to the United States of America in a makeshift courtroom at the Los Angeles Convention Center, along with more than 5,000 others from 102 countries.

In doing so, he laid to rest a misconception that began in 1945.

Venegas, 70, came to this country legally from his native Mexico when he was 5 years old. But he did not apply for citizenship until he was drafted into the Marine Corps near the end of World War II.


Then, he recalled, he told his commanding officer that he wanted to be naturalized, and a clerk helped him fill out a form. Venegas recalled that the clerk asked him to swear that the information on the form was true.

And with that, Venegas said, he thought he had been sworn in as a citizen.

Any doubts were erased a year later when the Marines presented him with an honorable discharge that said explicitly that he was a U.S. citizen.

Venegas, who owns an auto upholstery business near downtown Los Angeles, said he acted like a citizen--traveling back and forth freely between this country and Mexico--until 1982, when he tried to obtain a passport to visit his son-in-law’s parents in England.

“No way could I get a passport,” he said.

Passport office clerks would not accept his discharge papers as proof of citizenship. They demanded, instead, that he produce a U.S. birth certificate or a certificate of naturalization.

Venegas began to investigate. Concluding that someone in the Marine Corps or the Immigration and Naturalization Service had probably deposited his original application in a wastebasket, Venegas filed a new one.

Walking into the Convention Center auditorium for the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, a volunteer handed Venegas a small American flag and a form to use to register to vote.


Venegas had to laugh.

“I’ve been voting for 40 years,” he said.