Seventy-Five people from countries around the world gathered in Cal State Bakersfield’s Dore Theater Tuesday morning to complete the final step in becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.
People from El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Peru, the United Kingdom and Venezuela became the newest citizens of the U.S. after reciting the Oath of Allegiance at a Naturalization Ceremony, organized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Fresno Field Office.
“To those who have worked so hard to reach their dream of becoming an American citizen, I want to congratulate you and let you know how much you inspire each one of us,” said CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny. “We are celebrating our diversity – diversity of persons and ideas, along with inclusion and civility, which are fundamental strengths of our community.”
Of those being sworn in was CSUB Sociology professor, Dr. Alem Kebede, who has been a resident for 27 years. He decided it was time to become a U.S citizen after his mother passed away last year.
“I have always said to myself I am American culturally, politically, intellectually, so I say now is the time I have to be an American legally as well,” Kebede said. “My kids always asked me if I was an American. I was not in a position to answer that question, but this time I think I want to tell them that I am an American like them.”
Kebede, who was born in Ethiopia, said now that he is a naturalized citizen, he is excited to vote.
“Voting is one of the things I want to do,” he said. “I want to stay active.”
Keynote speaker Norma Gaspar Ontiveros, executive producer of Telemundo, spoke of the moment she decided to become a U.S citizen after learning of the power voting can have.
She said her political science professor at the University of Texas told her, “Norma, I can explain many reasons why immigrants should become U.S. citizens, but there is only that matters the most.”
She recalled him telling her, “If you want to have the biggest power in this country, you need to be able to vote. Your voice will be heard and will have a heavy weight in the degradation of this country. You, with your vote, will hold the winning ticket of whom you want to lead this country. Your vote is voice.”
Gaspar Ontiveros, who became a citizen 24 years ago, said, “But it’s more than that, my friends. It’s your right and privilege.”
Ana Yareth Ceja, who participated in the ceremony, also expressed eagerness to get out and vote in the next election.
“This was a great significance,” she said. “Now I can actually vote, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Her husband, Jaime Ceja, feels the same.
“It’s a major accomplishment,” he said. “I tell her she has so many opportunities now. One of them is to vote.”
Gaspar Ontiveros said before she decided to become a naturalized citizen, she feared she would betray her country if she became a citizen – but she learned it didn’t have to be that way.
“Feel proud to be an immigrant,” Gaspar Ontiveros said. “Embrace every single opportunity in this country but don’t stop sharing your language, culture, music, and talents. Each one of you has a great value to our community. We need you.”
Kebede, who came to the U.S. for graduate school 27 years ago, said he plans to embrace both of his cultures.
“My kids ask me, ‘Who are you? American or Ethiopian?’” he said. “Today, I am an American. To say I am an American does not mean I am going to completely give up my Ethiopian culture.”
Juan Murrillo, 24, came to the U.S. when he was just 10 years old. His parents brought him so he could have more opportunities, he said.
“I feel happy,” he said after the ceremony. “I feel more part of this country.”
Kebede said he hopes Dreamers at CSUB will one day get to experience this ceremony for themselves.
“They have been here for a long time, and I am dreaming like them that one day they will be able to say like me that they are now Americans,” said Kebede. “So I am praying for them. I’m really praying for them on a daily basis that they will have the same opportunity as me.”
Featured photo: CSUB Sociology professor, Dr. Alem Kebede, courtesy of CSUB