KINGSBURG – The 14 youngsters sitting nervously in the Kingsburg Library July 6 may have started their day out as residents of Yemen, Mexico or India, but now they are United States citizens.
At a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ naturalization ceremony that day, the youth from ages 4 to 15 took the Oath of Allegiance, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and were then awarded their official naturalization certificates.
Fresno County Without Walls mobile librarian Michelle Gordon has been coordinating such events with the Citizenship and Immigration Services Department for three years now. She said that at this ceremony, the children were becoming naturalized citizens through their parents as they had already obtained citizenship.
“I taught citizenship classes for Proteus so I know how hard these people work to become citizens. Then, their kids are given citizenship because they have it,” Gordon said.
Immigration Services officer Julio Pina said the ceremony was timed to coincide with the United States’ recent Independence Day celebrations marked by fireworks shows, parades and family gatherings around the nation.
“We hope this will be a memorable and positive experience for you, your family members and friends attending today,” Pina said.
The ceremony also included story time since the Fresno County libraries are in the midst of their summer reading program.
Senior library assistant Shonda Graham and community librarian Annika Janzen read stories and conducted a book talk at the ceremony. Children were also encouraged to create a picture frame for craft time, place stars on a world map of their home countries and take photos in a patriotic photo booth as well.
“I have so many friends who’ve come here from other countries to become American citizens,” Graham said. “It’s great to see the process and journey they take. I really wish you a warm welcome to this country and the library system itself.”
Maria Sandoval, a supervising immigration services officer, shared a letter from USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna that said even though Americans aren’t united by their backgrounds, race or religion, necessarily, they do share a common citizenship.
“This is based on democratic ideals of individual rights and shared responsibilities. I encourage you to use your talents and skills each day to build a better, stronger and brighter America for all here today and future generations to come,” Sandoval read from the letter.
Kingsburg Mayor Michelle Roman welcomed the children, shared how the community was founded by immigrants such as themselves and introduced a number of city officials who came to the ceremony to welcome the new citizens.
Roman said while she realized some of the youth may have been nervous and excited, the process was an important one in each of their lives.
“Know today that when we look at you, we say ‘welcome.’ We’re happy you are here and thank you for being part of the fabric that makes up the United States of America. We trust part of our future to you and ask only that you love America, you cherish her, you honor her, you protect her, embrace her, salute her and hold her dear to you. God bless all of you and God bless America.”
While the children, their parents and others observing the ceremony enjoyed cake afterward, parents Amandeep Singh and Rajan Gill said they were excited that their daughter, 4-year-old Ashmeet Kaur, is a citizen now.
“It’s very good. It’s very nice,” Singh said. “We told her in our language we speak at home, Punjabi, we explained it to her,” he said of their preparation for the day.
“We showed her that she has to stand like this and speak the pledge after the person so she was prepared,” Gill said.
Gordon said the ceremonies help her appreciate the rights she enjoys as a citizen and hopes other Americans appreciate the effort immigrants make to attain them.
“It’s really easy to take [citizenship] for granted and when you see these people who don’t know U.S. history and who sometimes don’t even know our language work so hard, they really have to want it. It’s something I think a lot of natural-born citizens take for granted.”
As citizens, the children will now have the right to vote when they get older, and they’ll also be able to obtain a U.S. passport for travel purposes.
“It’s always a moving experience for those of us that get to watch it and help organize it. I’m always really proud when the library can do this and be a part of the community to welcome new citizens.”