American flags waved, and the people cheered. That was the reaction to a naturalization ceremony at the State Capitol Monday that saw 150 immigrants sworn in to become the newest U.S. citizens March 28.
These immigrants came from over 51 countries, including Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Colombia, Ukraine, and Australia. The most were the 34 from Mexico, and seven from the Philippines. Overall, 72 of the 150 came from Latin American countries.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, conducted the ceremony that lasted about 40 minutes, and faced the House of Representatives inside the Rotunda at the Capitol because, as Thurston said to the immigrants, “This is the people’s house, this is your house.”
Following the national anthem, the immigrants were sworn in by Kristy Barrows, a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officer, amid cheers from the family and friends that were joining them.
Lt. Col. Matthew T. Fidel, a member of the Utah National Guard, spoke to the immigrants and gave them advice about their newly-gained citizenship. Fidel is married to a Cambodian refugee, and has three kids that are adopted from different countries around the world.
“Fully embrace and accept that you are now American, you should be proud of that,” Fidel said. “I know life was a survival game for many of you; that is not America. This will permeate your family, and be a blessing for your kids, and their kids.”
He urged the immigrants to establish themselves in one place, to provide stability, stating that “family traditions come through stability”.
“Make a family tradition that you stick to it, that you seek education, even when it’s hard, so you can obtain what you want,” Fidel said. “Opportunities come to those who stay the course.”
While each immigrant has their own story for how they got to the place that they’re at, a few stories are unique enough they need to be shared.
Magali Barton, from France, has been in the United States for 15 years, before finally becoming a citizen Monday. It has always been her dream. When she was younger and living in France, she had an American flag hanging in her room as a reminder of her desire to learn English and become a U.S. citizen.
“From the beginning, I saw so many opportunities, so many blessings that came with this country,” Barton said. “America, to me, means that I can become whatever I want. You see it, you dream it, you can have it.”
“I always told my parents, ‘one day I will be a citizen of America’, and today I fulfill that dream,” Barton said.
Mada Batarai, from Nepal, won the opportunity to come to the United States through the lottery in his home country. While it was a completely foreign land, and he didn’t speak the language, he took advantage, and came here with his wife to start a new life.
“I would like to give thanks to the United States for giving me this great, great, opportunity,” Batarai said in his broken English.
Thurston showed a video from President Obama during the ceremony, during which the President addressed the new responsibilities, as well as the opportunities, that the new citizens have.
“Like the millions of immigrants that have come before you, you have the opportunity to enrich this country through your contributions to civic society, business, culture, and community,” Obama said. “Together, we can help keep the beacon that is America shining bright for all the world to see.”
The Speaker of the Utah House, Rep. Gregory Hughes, who was unable to be there, even left a message for the newest Americans in the state.
“Our country and our communities can only be as great as those that are active and involved,” Hughes said. “There are many opportunities to be involved throughout our city and our state.”
“I encourage you all to stay highly engaged and become thought leaders among your spheres of influence,” Hughes said.
A dream came true for 150 people Monday, who for some, had been waiting years. Fidel’s last piece of advice for the immigrants was about cherishing their heritage, and embracing their new heritage.
“Value your heritage, but be an American first, in word and in deed,” Fidel said. “America is a very special place, home is here, and now. . . Raise all those around you to be the best Americans we have ever seen.”