Oregon's newest citizens welcomed at Waterfront Park
What does it mean to be an American?
"It's going to open doors for me," hoped Raymaris Acosta Castanedo, a Cuban native who ended up in Gresham.
"It's like a dream come true," said Victoria Ramirez, born in Oaxaca, Mexico and now living in Woodburn.
Speaking in Russian, it may be that Lyubov Voronina put it best. "Zhit horosho!" the woman said in Russian. A good life.
Renouncing their loyalty to any "foreign prince or potentate," 47 people transformed into America's newest citizens during a naturalization ceremony on Friday, May 4 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.
The occasion — part of the city's 34th-annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta — brought together immigrants from 24 different countries, including Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Lesotho, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Vietnam and, of course, Mexico.The fully-fledged citizens swore a special oath of allegiance promising to follow all laws and even take up arms to defend America if required. Voter registration paperwork was available to everyone, and several speakers exhorted the crowd to run for office as well.
During his keynote speech, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services director John Herrera told the audience he "was in your seat" just a few years ago.
"We came to this wonderful land that opens its doors to those seeking refuge," he noted. "For the loved ones at home, send a message that you are in the best country in the world."
A five-person choir from the Transportation Security Administration sang the National Anthem, with many under the big tent joining in. After receiving their official certificate, a white-suited honor guard of Royal Rosarians pinned rosey emblems on the new citizens' lapels.
Kristian Hill — a ginger haired 32-year-old from the United Kingdom — said he moved here to marry a woman he met on a Yahoo Sports chatroom. The Cornelius resident took the first job he could find as a "wash boy" at a car dealership, but now works in the technology sector.
"Even coming from a well developed country like England, there's still more opportunity here," he commented.
Castanedo, the 27-year-old Cuban, said she followed her father to America and is now working as the manager's assistant in a leasing office.
"I didn't like the weather, but I like the opportunity to study and to work," she explained.
Ramirez said it took her two decades to attain citizenship.
"It's a blessing to be in this country where all my family (is)," she said, "a country with a lot of opportunities, a lot of different cultures."
Naturalization ceremonies are relatively common in Portland, happening in a less public setting about twice per week at the Department of Homeland Security's office building in The Pearl.
Applicants must demonstrate good moral character, plus an understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the language, history and government of America.