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Profile: ‘Still shaking’: Glenwood Springs woman reflects on becoming US citizen

Tommy Divel, left, and his wife, Tina, stand outside of their Glenwood Springs shop. Standing in front of them is their dog, Noel.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Glenwood Springs resident Tina Kristen Divel just experienced one of the biggest moments in her life.

Joining 37 others at Colorado National Monument on Sept. 15, Divel participated in a grand ceremony celebrating her first official day as a United States citizen.

“I’m still shaking,” Divel reflected Wednesday.



Divel’s path to U.S. citizenship all began in Vietnam. Originally born Thu Kim Lan in Ho Chi Minh City, Divel was raised by her grandparents, Tong and Hoa Nguyen.

Prior to Divel’s birth, the Nguyens had to essentially start from scratch.



It was just after April 1975. Saigon had fallen to Communist forces, and the last of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and its sympathizers were either being completely wiped out or forcefully indoctrinated.

Divel’s grandfather, Tong, fought for the South Vietnamese and had to burn everything. Any documents or evidence linked to the former South Vietnamese government or the U.S. had to vanish — including Tong’s birth certificate.

Meanwhile, the Viet Cong forced Tong’s big Catholic family out of their home into something a lot smaller and unfavorable. Their original home was given to a North Vietnamese sympathizer.

After her birth in 1983, this symbol of Communist authority is where Divel grew up.

Her formative years were modest. With Tong out of a job, grandma Hoa Nguyen worked long days as an elementary school custodian.

“She was cleaning the school from about 4 o’clock in the morning until like 8 o’clock (at night),” Divel said.

Divel grew up learning English at school before attending a French high school.

After graduating, Divel would eventually take up a job in the tourism industry. Fluent in languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay and Thai, Divel provided translated tours for Vietnamese tourists exploring neighboring Asian countries.

At one point, however, Divel decided there wasn’t enough opportunity in Vietnam, and soon began to consider other opportunities. One day, Divel’s friends came to visit from America.

It was then Divel encountered a major revelation.

“They looked rich,” she said. “But we never knew how rich they are.”

Tina first met her future husband in September 2015.

Tommy Divel was in his downtown Glenwood Springs shop, Grande Optics, when Tina walked in. She was picking up a pair of glasses for one of her friends who worked at a nearby nail salon.

Tommy, a divorcee who had already raised three children in Carbondale, felt compelled to ask out what would eventually turn out to be his future wife.

“Well, she’s just gorgeous, to begin with,” Tommy said. “She was just so pleasant and sweet. I just asked her, and it took her awhile for her to really commit to a date.”

Tina had conditions, and given her long journey to the U.S., she was willing to wait.

“He was very kind and a good man,” Tina said.

Tina had originally immigrated to the U.S. in 2014. Using her experience in the tourism industry, the U.S. government granted her a visa. After meeting Tommy, the two would get married in 2016.

When an American marries a foreign national, that person does not immediately receive their citizenship, Tommy said.

“They have to make sure it’s not a sham marriage,” he said. “We had to go through interviews down in Denver and Centennial.”

When it came to getting her citizenship, Tina had to overcome bureaucracy.

“Because she’s from one of those countries that at that time the Trump administration wasn’t really keen on them getting citizenship,” Tommy said. “”That’s why we got a lawyer, because we didn’t want it to be political.”

At one point, Tina had to take one final test to gain her citizenship. One of the questions asked her to identify Colorado’s District 3 representative: Lauren Boebert.

Boebert later spoke at Tina’s U.S citizenship ceremony on Sept. 15.

“She made a really good point about how some Americans born and bred here do not understand the value of being an American like immigrants understand the value,” Tommy said of Boebert’s speech.

Nowadays, the Divels enjoy the good life. They travel, cook and plan to visit Europe soon.

Meanwhile, Tina said she’s planning on purchasing a firearm so she can go to the shooting range.

She also plans on broadening her horizons and pursuing a career in health care.

“She’ll work at the store as long as she wants. It’s fine. She’s good at it,” Tommy said. “And if it’s not a love of hers, she’s young enough she can find another career.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.


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