Carrying small U.S. flags, immigrants claim their American citizenship in Park City
June 19, 2015
The immigrants were gathered in rows below, in seats near the stage, and the curtain rose to reveal the marching band.
With a flick of the conductor’s wrist, the "The Star-Spangled Banner" trumpeted through the Eccles Center on Wednesday morning. The immigrants had come from 50 different countries and for perhaps hundreds of different reasons. Some held small American flags. Others tucked them into the chest pockets of their suit coats. All brimmed with excitement.
The anthem, they knew, soon would be their anthem.
"It is so wonderful," said Neiy Alvabo, who left her home in Mexico City for America nearly 20 years ago. "This day is everything."
Minutes later, after the marching band had left the stage and the countries from which those gathered were emigrating had been announced and celebrated, Alvabo and 169 others took the Oath of Allegiance. They raised their right hands and promised to abandon allegiance to any other countries. They swore to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies.
They were U.S. citizens at last.
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Gustavo Gramajo had longed for the moment for 15 years. He had come to America from Argentina seeking opportunity and freedom. Challenges have at times impeded his path but he eventually found both. He now works as a fashion designer.
After all the years, he said, it was time to truly become part of this country.
"I can’t even describe it," he said. "I waited for those words for so many years. It’s incredible. I can’t even express that. It’s something big. I know I was born in a different country but now this is my country."
For Kibwe Williams, America has meant happiness. He came to the U.S. from Guyana 13 years ago to attend Baruch College in New York City. His experience, unlike that of many immigrants, has been filled with little hardship. He credits that to growing up in an English-speaking, multicultural country. It eased his transition.
Nonetheless, he too was caught up in the magnitude of the day.
"I’ve always felt pride for my own country, and now I’m feeling pride for another country, as well," Williams said. "I must say it was a monumental moment, certainly."
While many of the immigrants participating in the ceremony came to the U.S. as adults, Matias Calquin has spent most of his life in America. His family moved here from Chile when he was 12 hoping to forge better lives.
"It was hard," he said. "I was in seventh grade and I didn’t really speak any English. I’m pretty social, but it was hard to express that."
Eventually, Calquin learned the language and formed friendships. He grew up, went to college and married an American woman. This country is now his permanent home. For years, he said, he has felt like an American, in all but title. The ceremony simply made it official.
"My life is completely here now. I’m a contributing member of society," he said. "But it feels nice to finally be a citizen, so I can now vote and make my voice known and things like that. I wanted to do that because this country has given me so much."