Long-time Vail Valley local Erik Garcia marks the day he became a citizen in the most American way possible | VailDaily.com

Long-time Vail Valley local Erik Garcia marks the day he became a citizen in the most American way possible

EAGLE — On Election Day, local Erik Garcia celebrated his newly acquired U.S. citizenship in the most American way possible.

For the first time ever, he voted.

"It was a huge day for the Garcia family," he said.

Garcia is a new American citizen, but he is a familiar presence in the Vail Valley. He has lived here for 18 years under permanent resident status. Many locals know him from his work with community nonprofit boards or as a soccer coach. Or perhaps they recognize him from his turn as one of the celebrity dancers at the YouthPower365 Star Dancing Gala.

“When he came out he had his ‘I voted’ sticker on, and he told me he had just become a citizen.” Mark ChapinEagle County Assessor

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Garcia came to the valley with his mom when he was just 11 years old. He attended both Berry Creek Middle School and Battle Mountain High School, where he was a track athlete and co-captain of the soccer team. He went on to attend Colorado Mesa University on a full-ride Guardian scholarship, where he earned his degree in construction management. Garcia then returned to the valley to work for R.A. Nelson. He married his high school sweetheart, Gaby, and the Garcias are busy raising their three kids — Andrea, 8; Javier, 6; and Sofia, 8 months.

Garcia has obviously built a fine life in the valley, but he wanted something more. He wanted to be an American citizen, and his dream came true in the most serendipitous way possible.

"Out of all the days, because they have ceremonies in Denver five days a week, my ceremony happened to be on Election Day," Garcia said.

America's melting pot

The Garcias left town early on Tuesday morning, Nov. 6, to make sure they would get to the 1:30 p.m. ceremony on time. Garcia was one of 54 people from 26 different nations who became naturalized American citizens in Tuesday's Denver ceremony.

After the formalities and post-ceremony celebration were concluded, the Garcias piled back into the family minivan and made it back to the Eagle County annex building so Erik could vote for the first time.

"We were hoping we could make it back by the 7 p.m. deadline. I made it with 15 minutes to spare," Garcia said.

After he cast his first ballot, Garcia wanted to memorialize the moment. He handed his camera to a bystander, who happened to be Eagle County Assessor Mark Chapin.

"When he came out he had his 'I voted' sticker on, and he told me he had just become a citizen," Chapin said.

After Garcia posed for his photo, thanked Chapin and took off for home, his story made the rounds among late voters.

"There was this father and son behind him, and they asked what was up. When I told them, the father said that was the greatest Election Day story he could think of," Chapin said. "It brought tears to my eyes because that's what this country is all about. It made me proud to be who we are and what we represent in this country."

Garcia hopes to cast ballots in many future elections, but Election Day 2018 will always be a very special memory. It's the day he became an American and embraced one of this country's core rights.

"I want to have a voice. I have been part of this community for a long time, but I haven't been able to vote," Garcia concluded.