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ASU's naturalized citizens celebrate and reflect on the Fourth of July

Along with the fireworks, festivities and barbecues that celebrate the Fourth of July, one of the most moving events to witness is a naturalization ceremony. For those seeking U.S. citizenship, the effort can be years in the making and the culmination of a lifelong dream of opportunities and freedom.

To celebrate and commemorate, ASU Now asked some of its community to reflect on their unique journeys to citizenship.

Those who responded hail from across the globe. They came with their parents, sought new opportunities, wanted to vote and fled political turmoil and civil unrest. Here, we share some of the best of their responses.

Editor's note: Some answer edited for length and clarity.

Why did you want to become a U.S. citizen?

Maxim Sukharev, associate professor, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts (Russia): To be a part of the advanced society that treasures personal freedom and human rights, to be able to vote and have a say, to give back to the country that welcomed my family and provided us with opportunities. 

David Manuel-Navarrete, associate professor, School of Sustainability (Spain): To vote.

Tomás Bilbao, executive director, branding and communications, Thunderbird School of Global Management (Venezuela): I first became a citizen by derivative when both my parents became naturalized citizens and I was a legal resident under the age of 18.

Catalina Monsalve, program coordinator senior, Global Outreach and Extended Education (Colombia): I love this country and have been wanting to become a citizen since I came in 1999. Given the political turmoils and talks of changes to immigration policies and naturalization standards, I thought it was imperative to make sure I was a citizen of the country I've called home for the last 20 years of my life.

Stefanie Botner, manager, International Students and Scholars Center (Germany): I wanted to become a citizen so I could participate in elections and to obtain a government job someday.

Sara Sami Jamous, lecturer, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (Lebanon): To get the freedom that I have been waiting for.

Marco Mangone, associate professor, School of Life Sciences, Biodesign Institute (Italy): I came to the U.S. 20 years ago with $500 and the desire to learn how to become a scientist. America has given me a lot of opportunities that I am tremendously grateful for, and I wanted to continue to realize my American dream. It might sound like a cliché, but it's true.

Sandra Martinez, manager, Administrative Support Operations and Staff Success, College of Health Solutions (Mexico): For decades, my father, grandfather and other relatives had migrated back and forth to the U.S. when workers were needed under the Bracero program and the like. My father eventually wanted for us to be together, so when I was 5 he brought us to the U.S. for a better life and a good education. It wasn't an easy journey, though. We had many hardships, but my father worked hard for us to become permanent legal residents in 1994. 

Now, I was motivated to apply for naturalization because I wanted to be a voice for others with my vote. I'm very fortunate to be where I am today as an immigrant, but being an immigrant in this country with the current administration you don’t know what to expect. I did not want to risk the laws changing and not be able to become a citizen. 

What does the concept of U.S. independence and freedom mean to you?

Sukharev: To choose your own path in life and follow your dreams.

Manuel-Navarrete: It means that institutions should be designed to work so as to enhance people's well-being, happiness and personal development.

Bilbao: The U.S. is more than a country. It stands for hope and opportunity for millions of people around the world. My family was fortunate that we had the resources and know-how to immigrate legally, but millions of others are not. Their desire to come to the U.S., provide their children a better future and to contribute to our country are no less deserving of our embrace.

Monsalve:  Growing up in a predominantly Catholic and generally conservative family, I always had a feeling that I was different, that I didn't necessarily fit in. When I came to the U.S. I was able to just be me, be myself, speak my truth from a personal but educated point of view, without the fear that my words would be misinterpreted in any way. Being able to just travel, live by myself and not have to marry or have children if I didn't choose to because of societal pressures. 

Botner: U.S. freedom and independence means to be able to speak and act freely. 

Jamous: It means the ability to think, speak, work and make decisions loudly for myself and environment. 

Mangone: Freedom means that you can be whatever you want, free of judgment. The only limitation on realizing your potential should be you. This is a foundation that the United States was built on, and it is a privilege that we all need to prize and defend — because you cannot take freedom for granted.

Martinez: The concept of U.S. independence/freedom is very beautiful to me. We have the privilege to practice any religion, have freedom of speech, we have a democratic process where we can vote and have access to education, to name a few. I am very thankful for all the men and women who have served to give us this amazing way of life. America is the land of opportunity where dreams do come true if you work hard and do everything you can to be the best version of yourself. The American dream is real, and I am happy to live the dream my parents dreamed for me.  

What moved you or resonated with you the most during your naturalization ceremony?

Sukharev: One particular speech given by an old lady, in which she told everyone how proud she was that she became a citizen that day, how hard she worked to get there. I believe she was 70 years old on that day.

Manuel-Navarrete: Over the last six years I have developed a strong personal connection with the land: the warmth of the Sonoran desert, its endless skies, the scorpions and eagles. Above all the Native cultures and spirits, the presence of which can still be felt within meandering valleys, rising mountains, rolling prairies or storming rivers. At the ceremony I was struck by the realization that I was the last one in a long string of many million Europeans who have disembarked on this land for the last three centuries. At first I felt somehow guilty for not having asked permission more explicitly, then a deep sense of responsibility to keep appreciating and respecting the land and a commitment to love it as an extension of myself.

Bilbao: I accompanied my father to his naturalization ceremony at a basketball stadium in Houston. I remember his face full of pride. At the time I thought it was about how proud he was to become an American, and that was true, but I now understand that it was also about what it meant for his four sons.

Monsalve: For me, it was being given the opportunity to volunteer to speak about my experience that made it more meaningful, not for me particularly, but for the people that had helped me get there: my mother, my ex-husband, my friends, coworkers, previous ASU bosses. I think I had over 25 guests there just for me; it was truly special to feel all that love and support. Getting the naturalization certificate, registering to vote and sending off the paperwork for the blue passport was the cherry on top! Very special day indeed.

Botner: I got chills when it was time to take the oath of allegiance. I have heard the words many times but never swore to them. 

Jamous:  It resonated with my feelings, and it was amazing to share that moment with other immigrants and my family.

Mangone: After the pledge of allegiance, President Obama appeared on a screen and delivered a welcome speech to all of us. This really touched me, because he made me feel like I'm part of a big family — with all its rights and responsibilities.

Martinez: The sweetest thing during my speech was seeing my dad there and thanking him for everything he had done for our family. Everyone gave him a round of applause, and that was truly special for me. I was also very happy to have my family and my amazing ASU colleagues there who had followed my journey. David Garcia even made it to my ceremony, which was super sweet that he took the time to be there. Lastly, if felt so nice addressing everyone as "my fellow Americans" — I had been wanting to say that for years!  

How did you celebrate your citizenship milestone?

Sukharev: With the family and friends — we celebrate this day as our second birthday.

Manuel-Navarrete: By meditating.

Bilbao: My parents met as graduate students at ASU in 1971. My father was studying physics and my mother international relations. They got married at St. Mary's church across the street from Fulton (Center) the following year. Almost 50 years later, I accepted a job with ASU and moved my family to Phoenix. Now my son, only 2, gets to walk around the Tempe campus where his grandparents once did, and where he too may be a student in the future. Last month I celebrated my 20th anniversary of having become a U.S. citizen. I've been a public servant in the federal government, managed a charitable organization, volunteered in my community and now serve the people of Arizona at ASU. I celebrate the gift of U.S. citizenship every year by doing my best to give back to the community and to protect the values that make the U.S. such a special and unique country.

Monsalve: I had a lot of people there to support me and celebrate this accomplishment. Afterwards we went to a restaurant for lunch, and other friends who could not make the ceremony joined us for dinner and drinks. For myself, the celebration became meaningful when I got my U.S. passport and my naturalization certificate. I cried in private, celebrated by going to get a glass of wine by myself and really take in the changes that were taking place. I did not realize how much fear I had been carrying for 20 years. It had paralyzed me for so long, and feeling that weight being lifted off was the unexpected gift I received after becoming a U.S. citizen. I was really sad that my dad (stepfather) was not there to see me become a citizen, which is why I celebrated in private, by myself, later on.

Botner: My family took me out for a small breakfast, and my co-workers threw me a surprise pizza party. 

Jamous: We had a big party/dinner.

Mangone: We had a barbecue with friends — it was really nice.

Martinez: We celebrated twice. First with a lovely lunch after my ceremony and second with an American-themed party at our home with family and friends. I had lots of fun testing the knowledge of our guests with the online civics test that I used to study for my citizenship interview. Let's just say many did not pass — and they were citizens!

Top photo: Catalina Monsalve, with ASU's Global Outreach and Extended Education in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, celebrates after her naturalization ceremony on April 12, 2019. Photo courtesy of Catalina Monsalve