Dying Kennett mushroom worker gets lifelong dream of becoming a legal U.S. citizen

Submitted photoPictured (lft to right): James Graham, Mario Ayllon, Celina Ayllon, Joaquin Ayllon, and Elaine Girod Marnell.
Submitted photoPictured (lft to right): James Graham, Mario Ayllon, Celina Ayllon, Joaquin Ayllon, and Elaine Girod Marnell.

KENNETT SQUARE >> For the longest time -- and especially ever since Donald Trump became president earlier this year -- Joaquin Ayllon Cordova wanted to be an American citizen. He took citizenship classes at South Mill Kaolin Mushroom Farm, the same place that was raided by customs officials a couple of months back.

Becoming a U.S. citizen would give him security for himself and his family. Two of his children live with him in the Kennett area, one lives in Virginia, and one in his home country, Mexico. But he needed to learn the 100 questions required for preparation to become a legal citizen. Classes could not be missed.

After months of perfect attendance, Cordova 64, filed the application for citizenship and completed the required fingerprinting paperwork. But when he missed class one evening, Elaine Girod Marnell, director of labor relations at the mushroom firm, became concerned. She discovered that Cordova was at Jennersville Hospital, diagnosed with advanced stage of cancer.

Marnell teaches the class in Spanish to those who are “grandfathered” in -- those who are at least 50 years old and having permanent residence for 20 or more years. All others must take the test in English.

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Marnell, knowing Cardova was gravely ill, contacted Lorainne Martinez at the Chester County Migrant Ministry, who assists people in filling of their citizenship applications. Martinez immediately contacted the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and asked for them to send someone to Jennersville hospital to conduct the exam at Cordova’s bedside.

Earlier last month, James Graham, an Immigration Services Officer, arrived at the hospital, with Cordova’s family at his side. Graham asked the citizenship exam questions in English, and one of Cordova’s children interpreted.

“He could only answer the questions by mouthing it because he couldn’t talk anymore,” Marnell said. “It was quite something to see.”

Cordova, who has worked at South Mill for the past 10 years, passed the test to become a legal U.S. citizen.

“Everyone had little flags out,” Marnell said. “He was absolutely thrilled, especially now because this (immigration) issue is such a disturbing topic.”

Cordova, who was recently transferred to a hospice nursing facility in West Chester, now wants his children to become U.S. citizens.

“I think this will inspire them to do so,” Marnell said.

Funding for the citizenship class at Kaolin Mushroom Farm is provided through the Chester County Migrant Education Program, and is taught by Ann Schott, a retired Unionville High School teacher. To date, 20 people have become U.S. citizens with the aid of the classes at South Mill.

About the Author

Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at kennettpaper@gmail.com or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.