Two Vandalia residents, Laban Otiende and his wife, Florence, formerly of Kenya, Africa, recently became citizens of the United States.
Laban, a packer at Dawn Foods in Mexico, Mo., and Florence, a CNA at Tri-County Care Center, in Vandalia, first came to the United States in 2001 and 1999, respectively.
The Otiendes explained the lengthy citizenship process. Initially, both applied for student visas. After one year in the U.S., they applied to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to become permanent residents. The Otiendes were issued 10-year green cards as permanent residents. After 10 years in the states, the Otiendes then applied to become U.S. citizens in March 2012. The husband and wife were each issued a book on civics and the United States Constitution to read and study for an exam. The couple took their exams in July 2012 in St. Louis.
The Otiendes became United States citizens in a Naturalization Ceremony, conducted by Judge Kathy A. Surratt from the Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse at the Missouri Botanical Gardens’ Shoenberg Theater in St. Louis on August 24, 2012. A total of 67 people from 33 nations became citizens that day.
Both Laban and Florence were born in Kakamega, western Kenya, Africa. They have been married for 30 years and have two sons, who live in Virginia and Maryland. After moving from Fairfax, Va., the Otiendes have resided in Vandalia for the past five years and are members of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Vandalia.
Laban Otiende is an overseer of seven Pentecostal churches in Kenya.
In Kakamega, the Otiendes own a farm that produces corn, beans, potatoes, and vegetable crops. Cattle and sheep also are raised on their farm.
When asked if they miss anything from Kenya, the Otiendes said they are able to buy Kenyan tea and corn flour to make ugali, a staple in the Kenyan diet.
When asked if they like any particular American food, the Otiendes listed cornbread, mashed potatoes, and gravy.
As new citizens, both Laban and Florence voted for the first time in the November 6 election. The couple said “we are very proud to become Americans.”