There were hugs, cheers and some tears Tuesday when nearly 20 immigrants recited the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at South Puget Sound Community College.
Therese Baxter-Pantoja of Olympia said the first thing she did was text her two sons — one is a firefighter, the other a sheriff’s deputy — to let them know that her husband and their father, Juan Ramon Pantoja, 42, can finally register to vote.
“It was very emotional, I think, because he’s so Americanized anyway,” Baxter-Pantoja said. “It’s the American dream.”
Pantoja is a vocational counselor who emigrated from Mexico in 1978 and served in the Armed Forces. But he said it wasn’t until recently that he felt it was important to pursue citizenship. Now he said he’s looking forward to voting in next year’s presidential election.
The naturalization ceremony was sponsored by the Timberland Regional Library system, the Thurston County Auditor’s Office and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In a keynote speech, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck talked about how the late Nisqually activist Billy Frank Jr. often encouraged people to stand up for what they believe in and share their stories because it matters.
“Right now you’re creating your story for your family to share for generations to come,” Heck said.
The new citizens hail from a variety of countries, including the Philippines, Australia, China, India, South Korea and Russia.
Yuliya Kravchuk, 24, of Fife participated in the ceremony with her mother. They moved from Ukraine about 14 years ago.
“This is an awesome country to live in,” Kravchuk said.
“We are happy here,” added her mother, Olga Kravchuk.
Moritz Bartels, 43, of Gig Harbor moved from Germany to the United States in 2002 to get medical training. Then he met his wife, Diane, in Texas.
Their two children have dual citizenship, and now he will to.
“For me, it’s just the certainty, because I’m not going back,” Bartels said. “I like the certainty that no one is going to change the rules on me.”
Diane Bartels described the event as “the end of a long journey.”
She said her husband’s new status will finally allow them to travel as a family. Too often, he ends up in a different line at airports, especially when they travel internationally, and there’s always the fear that he’ll be delayed in returning to the United States because of paperwork issues.
“There was always that uncertainty of coming back in,” she said.
The family had big plans to celebrate after the ceremony: They were going to have steak for dinner.
“It’s American food,” Moritz Bartels said with a laugh.