New citizens like US—they swear it

Happy immigrants take the oath in the glow of video cameras and beaming families

lpemberton@theolympian.comFebruary 5, 2014 

Sreelatha Robba pointed a camcorder at her husband, Venkat, as he recited the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony Tuesday at the Olympia Timberland Library.

It was a huge moment for their entire family, she said.

“I feel like my kids were born here, so now my husband is a citizen and they can stay here,” said Robba, 32, of Olympia.

Ten South Sound immigrants from seven countries participated in the ceremony, which included patriotic music, a video message from President Barack Obama and remarks by Timberland Regional Library director Cheryl Heywood, who is a naturalized citizen.

“It’s a long, long journey, so congratulations for getting to this point today,” said Heywood, who immigrated from Canada and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in 2008.

The new citizens hail from Vietnam, Laos, India, South Korea, the Philippines, Japan and American Samoa, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Among them was Pfc. Lafaele Ropati, 20, of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, who has moved between his homeland, American Samoa, and the United States several times since 2006.

“It means a lot,” the Army mechanic said about the event.

About 50 people attended the ceremony, including friends and family members and representatives from the Sacajawea chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), who handed out flag lapel pins to the new citizens.

“We all have that connection –- the desire to be part of the great democracy,” said Suzy Scuderi with the women’s service organization that promotes patriotism.

Some of the immigrants cried during the ceremony, especially when Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” was played.

Eugenie Eborde, 35, of Tacoma described the event as “overwhelming.”

A native of the Philippines, she is a certified nursing assistant at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma.

She said it took about five years to become naturalized, but it was worth the wait.

“I enjoy it here,” Eborde said. “You work, you have money. If you’re not picky, it’s easy to have a job.”

Venkat Robba, an information technology consultant with the state Department of Social and Health Services, agreed.

“This country has a lot of opportunity,” he said. “I’ve grown a lot since I came here.”

He and his wife are from India, and they applied for the process together in 2007. But Sreelatha Robba was pregnant at the time and couldn’t get the required vaccinations.

“That’s when our files got separated,” Venkat Robba said.

At first, he said the Olympia couple were disappointed that they couldn’t go through the ceremony together.

But then they realized they could take pictures and videos of each other’s swearing-in ceremonies, and that made it better, he said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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