Myki Dee Kim, Staff Writer
On Feb. 13, 2020, Saint Martin’s Marcus Pavilion was used as a celebration venue for those swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States of America. The 2020 Naturalization Ceremony began with America’s national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and ended with our country’s Pledge of Allegiance. The Marcus Pavilion was filled with occupants, whose emotions overflowed during the ceremony.
Community Relations Officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Quinn Andrus, opened up the event by welcoming candidates for citizenship and their loved ones to the momentous occasion. Andrus noted that candidates had worked hard to be eligible for citizenship as they must become proficient in the English language, learn American history and government, and be in good standing, before they are granted citizenship.
Portland Field Office Director for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Richard Miller, was in attendance at the event. Miller said that as U.S. citizens, candidates will be able to share the same rights and privileges as their fellow Americans.
With 79 countries represented, and totaling 492 candidates; all in attendance were celebrating such a major milestone in their lives. In alphabetical order, each country represented was called by name, and candidates were asked to stand upon hearing their home country. After rising, candidates received cheers from one another, as well as their loved ones in attendance.
Miller was called to the podium and asked the candidates to stand and raise their right hand. Candidates were presented to Miller as upstanding citizens who have worked tirelessly to reach the place they are today. Miller asked candidates to recite the oath of allegiance after him. The pavilion fell silent as family and friends proudly watched their loved ones take upon citizenship of the United States. Once the oath concluded, Miller congratulated candidates and the entire pavilion rejoiced as one.
Cyrus Habib, Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, was this year’s naturalization keynote speaker. As a child of Iranian immigrants, Habib shared his family’s personal story on their immigration to America for freedom, education, economic opportunities, and a new home.
Both of Habib’s parents went through higher education. His father became an engineer and worked for Boeing, and his mother– an attorney– became a Superior Court judge. She was one of the first Iranian-Americans to hold elected office. As a child, Habib was diagnosed with a rare childhood eye cancer that left him blind by the age of eight. However, because of the support from his community, he became an attorney, and eventually Lieutenant Governor.
Habib noted in his speech that even though candidates took a formal oath to become a citizen of the United States, it did not mean they left their cultures behind. It is important to be a citizen of the United States, but to remember where they came from, as culture makes up a large part of one’s identity. Habib closed his speech with the message that cultural diversity is what makes the United States great.
A guest by the name of Courtney, along with her two young children and future mother-in-law, were in attendance, supporting her fiancé who is originally from Kenya. Courtney said that she loved the many different cultures represented and that this is a magnificent way to unify the community. From personal experience, Courtney noticed that when her fiancé would come across other individuals who are of African descent, either born in the states or having immigrated just as he did, they shared a common story, and are able to understand one another in a very special way.
Dennis Hampton and his family were in attendance, supporting their neighbors who were originally from Vietnam. Hampton recalled memories of when his wife went through her naturalization ceremony in 1980 in Colorado Springs, Colo. Hampton also noted that his wife was nine months pregnant at the time (she gave birth two days after the ceremony) and remembered all the emotions that ran through their family’s heads. When his wife was going through her ceremony, it was a group of 50 candidates. Seeing the scale of the celebration was astonishing. He noted that becoming a citizen solidifies one’s dedication to preserving the country, and welcomes in a large amount of diversity to the Washington state community.
A celebration of citizenship not only brought those in attendance together as one community, but offered a chance for growth in the United States population. Each individual has their own personal story whether they were born in the U.S. or immigrated from abroad. Each person’s narrative holds meaning in the grand scope of what makes America the land of the free and the home of the brave.