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Prof. Bohorquez takes oath of citizenship after 23 years in America

July 3, 2008
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Maria Bohorquez, left, proudly holds her citizenship certificate with U.S. Magistrate Judge Celeste F. Bremer.

MEDIA CONTACT: Lisa Lacher, 515-271-3119, lisa.lacher@drake.edu  


By Emilee Richardson

Twenty-three years after leaving Argentina for the United States, Drake University Professor of Chemistry Maria Bohorquez took the U.S. Oath of Allegiance on Thursday, July 3.

The naturalization ceremony, which was the last step in becoming a U.S. citizen, took place in the Rotunda at the State Capitol. With right hands raised, 93 men and women representing 27 countries spoke the words of the Oath of Allegiance. View photos from the ceremony in an online gallery. 


Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, Sen. Tom Harkin and Iowa Secretary of State Michael A. Mauro spoke to the new citizens. Harkin began his speech, "I am glad to be able to address you as 'my fellow citizens.'" Mauro urged the new citizens to register to vote and exercise their new right. Each speaker also shared his cultural heritage and spoke of the many privileges of U.S. citizenship.


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Maria Bohorquez joins 92 other new citizens in the Rotunda at the State Capitol.
Bohorquez faced a long naturalization process


Bohorquez, 52, initially planned to stay in the United States for only one year.  She came to America in 1985 to conduct research, but said she felt so comfortable in the United States that she kept telling herself over and over: "One more year."  
In order to become a U.S. citizen, Bohorquez first became a permanent resident, a process that took nearly a year. Next, she received a green card and began the five-year waiting period before a person can apply for citizenship.

Bohorquez hit a snag when, in 2001, she took a yearlong sabbatical in Argentina. "This 'resets' the clock," she explained, "So I had to wait another five years."

She finally qualified to apply for citizenship last July. After applying, she went through an interview process that included testing her English-proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and politics. She passed the test, receiving a perfect score.

"It was pretty basic information," she said, "like the number of people in the House of Representatives and the Amendments to the Constitution. It's things [U.S. citizens] would learn in school, but I found it very interesting."

Looking foward to voting, feeling at home

After becoming a citizen, she said she's looking forward to voting and being eligible for opportunities like the Fulbright Scholarship Program, but mostly she just wants to feel at home. "You kind of feel like a stranger," she said. "This is the first step to truly feeling at home."

Professor Bohorquez was born in Necochea, Argentina, in the Buenos Aires province and received her undergraduate and doctoral degrees at the University of Rio Cuarto. After coming to the U.S. in 1985, she conducted research at the University of Notre Dame and Bowling Green State University and taught at Southeastern Louisiana University.


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Maria Bohorquez, right, works with undergraduates on research projects.

In 1995, Bohorquez joined the Drake faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry. She was promoted to associate professor in 1998 and to professor in 2008. Her courses include general, physical and biophysical chemistry as well as a senior seminar. She also directs the Drake Undergraduate Science Collaborative Institute, a student organization developed to promote, support and coordinate efforts to fund undergraduate research in math and science.

Bohorquez's research, which focuses on the molecular organization of cell membranes, has been featured in numerous science journals and publications. She has also been invited to teach several graduate courses and seminars at universities around the country and in Argentina.

She said she enjoys the challenge of teaching and mentoring students even though it can sometimes be a struggle.

"It's like having children," said Bohorquez, who doesn't have any children of her own. "You get to watch them become adults."

Bohorquez celebrated her first Independence Day as a U.S. citizen by attending a barbecue her friends organized to commemorate her citizenship.