Seventy newly minted Americans stepped out of the Snider Recital Hall on Wednesday. They walked in representing countries as near as Mexico and as far as Iran, Ghana and Ukraine, but walked out waving the Stars and Stripes as U.S. citizens.
Five among them were California State University, Stanislaus, students, noted James Strong, provost at the Turlock campus. Strong invited the new citizens to return Saturday and celebrate their new country with the community fireworks display.
“There is no better week to do this than that one where we celebrate the independence of a nation of immigrants,” Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, told the crowd of new citizens and their cheering families.
Denham, whose father-in-law became a naturalized citizen, helped arrange for the special ceremony and spoke of the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
The rich diversity and energy of its immigrants helps drive the economy of a nation with an aging population, noted keynote speaker Jose Rodriguez, CEO of El Concilio. “That diversity is what makes this country unique and the envy of the world,” he said.
“This is a country where what matters is not where you came from. What matters is where you want to go,” said Rodriguez, a California native whose farmworker parents came from Mexico.
Enjoy the opportunity to make an incredible life in the greatest country on earth.
Jose Rodriguez, CEO of El Concilio
“As I look across the room and see the diversity of our newest Americans, it brings me great joy, because it reminds me that we are a country bound together not defined by ethnicity or bloodlines, but by a common set of ideas,” he told the group. “Each one of you has a unique story and unique contributions you bring to this country, yet you all have one thing in common. You’ve all come in search of a better life, and my fellow citizens, you can have it.”
The July 1 ceremony, so close to the national holiday, held special significance, said Lynn Feldman, section chief of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fresno field office.
“Every year when you celebrate the Fourth of July, you can celebrate this anniversary for yourself as well,” she told the group after it had taken the oath.
654,949 immigrants became U.S. citizens in fiscal 2014
The Fresno office covers Modesto to Bakersfield, Feldman said before the event. While her office administers the oath of citizenship at ceremonies every month, she said the office holds mobile events about five times a year in areas farther from Fresno to make it easier for families to come.
“This is going to change everything,” said Ignacio Manzo Lopez of Merced, who emigrated from Mexico five years ago.
“We were dreaming of this day,” said Sajida Alkhateeb, who fled Iraq with her family five years ago in April. She said she feels safe now. Her son, Stanislaus State math major Mustafa Albayaty, and husband, Ahmed Albayaty, took the oath with her.
The couple were engineers in Iraq, but here work helping other immigrants. She works at the Stanislaus County Family Services Agency, and he works at the Davis High Language Institute.
13 Countries that were represented among the 70 individuals who became U.S. citizens
Clad in patriotic T-shirts and waving small U.S. flags, the young daughters of Donna Joy Aquitania cheered their mom’s new citizenship. Married to U.S. citizen Fred Aquitania of Merced, she had a three-year wait to take the oath after arriving from the Philippines.
“We’re proud of her,” Fred Aquitania said.
“I can vote,” said Mexico native Maria Gutierrez of Newman, who has lived in the United States for 37 years.
Outside the hall, volunteers waited with voter registration packets to help her and the other new citizens do just that.
Being able to vote also was a top priority for Ukraine native Igor Ivaskevych. “That actually was a pretty big part of it for me,” said the Modesto Junior College psychology major.
He took the oath with his brother. Both came as kids to the United States in 1999. Being a U.S. citizen will allow him to visit Ukraine without fear of not being allowed to leave, said Ivaskevych, who volunteers with the Modesto Sister Cities International program.
“I’m very proud, very happy this day came,” he said.
I personally enjoy hearing this type of thing and wish more would do it. People claim this is their country but are not willing to do what it takes to become part of it but only want to benefit from it…….