Nearly 25 years after moving to the United States from her native Honduras, Dulce Ngo has officially become a U.S. citizen.
She did so to honor her late grandparents, who had become naturalized citizens. Although she still has an emotional attachment to her country of birth, Ngo has called the United States — the land where she was raised since age 9 — home.
“I have always felt like an American,” she said after being photographed in front of a U.S. flag. “Now it’s official because a paper says it.”
Ngo was one of 19 people sworn in as U.S. citizens during a ceremony Thursday at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia. The immigrants hail from countries that include Fiji, Iran, Mexico, Moldova, Nepal, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Ukraine, Vietnam and Burkina Faso.
“I have always dreamed of being a U.S. citizen,” said Diana Hidalgo, a Mexico native who celebrated the milestone with her husband, U.S. Army soldier Juan Hidalgo, and their daughters, Natalie and Naomi.
Keynote speaker Uriel Iniguez, executive director of the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, reminded the new citizens about the accomplishments of other immigrants — including physicist Albert Einstein and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
“You’re in good company,” he said. “You’re looking to a future that some of you have never even thought of.”
Iniguez became a citizen in 1989. He had moved to the U.S. from Mexico as one of 11 children in his family, and all 11 children went on to earn college degrees. Iniguez’s father always calls every election season, reminding him to vote. He urged the attendees Thursday to exercise their newfound privilege and right.
“It’s a responsibility to engage your government,” he said, noting that the new citizens have until Monday to register to vote in the upcoming election.
Other keynote speakers Thursday included Cheryl Heywood, director of the Timberland Regional Library. The native Canadian, who became a U.S. citizen in 2008, touted the role of the public library in helping immigrants learn the language and history of their new country, for example, or in helping them start a business or find a job. The library system has long been a partner in the annual local naturalization ceremony.
Olympia siblings Derik Nelson, Riana Nelson and Dalten Nelson sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Thursday’s ceremony. There was a personal connection to the performance because their mother, Marit Nelson, had grown up in the Netherlands and became a U.S. citizen in 1981.
“It was a huge deal,” Riana Nelson said of her mother’s citizenship. “She’s very much proud to be here in the United States.”
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, about 680,000 people become naturalized citizens every year. Those applying for citizenship must be at least 18 years old, must be lawful permanent residents, must have lived in the United States for at least five years, must have good moral character, must be able to speak, read, write and understand English, must have knowledge of U.S. history and government, and must take the Oath of Allegiance.