KINGSBURG – Anxious, excited and relieved. Those were the emotions the young, new Americans were feeling after officially becoming United States citizens at a swearing-in ceremony July 5.
This was the second year in a row that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services held such an event at the Kingsburg Branch of the Fresno County Libraries. Similar events take place around the Valley at local library branches.
Eighteen youth were sworn in that day and they hailed from countries around the globe including India, Mexico, Cuba, Philippines, China and Egypt.
Hanford’s Jose Castellanos and his twin brother, Brayan Castellanos, 10, admit they were nervous before the ceremony. But now that they’re officially citizens, Jose said they felt relieved.
“I feel good.”
Jaspreet Chahal, 17, of Fresno was among the new citizens. He’s already fulfilling part of the American dream having graduated from Central High School last year. He’s attending Fresno City College studying kinesiology with plans to become a physical therapist. Now that he’s a citizen, he’s also planning to vote when he’s old enough.
“I feel excited. It’s good. I’m excited about voting to make change. I’ll be in 18 in December so by 2020 I can vote.”
Chahal said some of his family members are already citizens while others are still going through the process. Someday, they may all vote together.
“I’m one of the citizens in my family now. It’s me, my dad and my sister. My brother and mom will be citizens soon. They’re working on it.”
Supervisory Immigration Services Officer Marshall Lancaster administered the Oath of Allegiance where the youth promised to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
“We are honored to welcome you,” Lancaster said. After the ceremony, he said the youngsters have hopes and dreams similar to all American: success, however they want to define it.
“They want to succeed. So whatever their goal in life and whatever they aspire to become, it’s now up to them. If you buck the system in other countries, you may wind up on a black list. This country is the country to be in. Now, they don’t have anyone holding them back except themselves.”
Immigration Services Officer Julio E. Pina read a statement from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ acting Director Kenneth Cuccinelli. He reminded the newcomers that it’s not Americans’ background, race or religion that unites the country, “but rather by our common citizenship which is based on Democratic ideals, equal and individual rights and shared responsibilities.”
Cuccinelli encouraged the youth to use their talents and skills to “build a better, stronger and brighter America for all here today, and for the future generations to come. Along with all the rights you now have comes the responsibilities of citizenship. It’s now your duty to make positive contributions to your community and to the nation.”
The event included story time by children’s librarian Jamie Kurumaji, the Pledge of Allegiance, a welcome by Mayor Pro Tem Laura North and a reception afterwards with cake, goodie bags, photos and balloons.
North said she too was excited to attend since having a diverse population is what makes the United States unique and adds to its strength.
“We need all of these different cultures because that’s what makes up our country and makes it great - all these different opinions, all these different viewpoints and for them to really step up and make a difference. I’m excited to see what these kids have in store for them.”
She reminded the new citizens that once they were old enough to vote, they could start making a difference by voting. And even before then, she encouraged them to start making their hometowns better.
“Being an American and a patriot is more than what we just did by saying the Pledge of Allegiance. The word, ‘American’ means opportunity. The opportunities are endless for you here. We always need young, fresh opinions. I encourage you whether your community is here in Kingsburg, or Fresno, or if you travelled from even farther to be here today, that you look starting in your own community - whether that’s in your school or in your town - at what you can do to give back.”
North also had the youth stand, look at their families and thank them for the sacrifices they’ve made so their children could have these opportunities.
“It took time and it took a considerable financial cost in order to get them to this point. I want to thank you for raising up our future of this country and noticing how important that citizenship is to them and their future.”
North had attended the 2018 swearing-in ceremony and noticed this group of new citizens were older and likely more aware of just what this event meant for their entire lives.
“I felt like they got it and understood what it meant. I’m just so thankful their parents are making this sacrifice because it’s expensive. It’s exciting and I hope they get that they can make change in this world. To me, this is one of the most exciting things in our town and it’s now the second year. Just watching their life change right here, right in one moment. All these doors open up to them.”
Each youth received their citizenship certificate to a roomful of applause and words of advice on how to safely store the document.
“We hope today will remain a special day for each of you,” Pina said.
Senior library assistant Shonda Graham said the swearing-in may likely become an annual event.
“It is very exciting for them and it’s exciting for the Library to welcome them to the country. They’ll have their first experiences as U.S. citizens in our library system. It’s a very big honor for us and a privilege for us to do this for them.”
Graham said she often hears surprise from those new to this country how all the materials and services available at the library are free to those with library cards. It’s just another example of the amenities Americans take for granted.
“They’re always amazed they can walk in, there are all these books that not censored and they can pull anything off the shelf they want to. They like the fact we also have the foreign language CDs and not just in Spanish, but also the different languages. The library tries to have access to as many languages as we can.”
Libraries also carry toolkits to help residents become U.S. citizens. Citizenship Corners are also available at Betty Rodriguez, Caruthers, Central, Clovis, Community Bookmobile, Fig Garden, Firebaugh, Fowler, Gillis, Kerman, Mendota, Parlier, Politi, Reedley, San Joaquin, Sanger, Selma, Sunnyside, Tranquility, Orange Cove, West Fresno and Woodward Park library branches.
For more information log on to: http://www.fresnolibrary.org/serv/american.html. New Americans are invited to contact their local branch library for further information and assistance or call 600-7323.