WEST BRANCH — They came from Canada and Mexico, from China and France, from Russia, Romania, South Korea and Sri Lanka.
Their skin was white, yellow, brown and black.
They wore blue jeans and T-shirts, suits and ties, dresses from their native lands.
They sat in neatly arranged folding chairs, American flags in hand, their somber expressions trained on the lectern facing the grounds east of the stately Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
In a 45-minute ceremony, these 75 foreigners from 37 countries gave up citizenship in their birth countries to become citizens of the greatest nation on earth.
“This is beautiful,” exclaimed Edwin Turcios, 42, a native of Honduras who drives a truck for a living and has held a green card in the United States for two decades. “It’s something I can’t believe,” added Edwin, who lives in Coralville. “I hope it’s not a dream.”
But, it is. A dream come true.
For new citizens like Yvette Irakoze, 24, of Cedar Rapids who gave birth two weeks earlier to her daughter, Bernice, it is the culmination of an impossible journey. Born in Burundi, impoverished in squalid living conditions where moving at age 5 to a refugee camp of tents seemed a luxury, Yvette has left behind places without running water for a land where she carries a cellphone to stay in contact with her husband, Melchiade Niragira, 36, and their older daughter, Flavia, 3.
“I’m just so happy,” Yvette said in her broken English. She smiled as she clutched her American Flag and citizenship papers against her light green Burundi dress decorated with sparkles that glinted in the sun.
Not far away, across an immaculate green lawn, the doors stood open on the Hoover birthplace cottage, a neat two-room whitewashed home that represented poverty in this country in 1874 when our 31st president was born in it.
From the opening strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” to the lyrics of “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” the naturalization ceremony sent chills up many spines and brought tears of happiness to many an eye. These ceremonies take place all across America, even several times a year in Iowa. Yet, each time it is new to those who take the oath of allegiance, to those who promise to uphold the Constitution which, on Sept. 17, had been signed 225 years ago.
As Judge Jon S, Scoles, who administered the oath, said, this country was founded by immigrants. It is built on their ideals and hard work, on the diversities of backgrounds and experiences.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Constitution than to welcome new citizens,” he said.
Nine years ago Jarye Bah, 20, of Iowa City came from Sierra Leoni with her mother and siblings to join her father. She is a West High graduate, a Kirkwood Community College student, a paralegal in training, a young woman ready to vote in her first election. She couldn’t stop smiling as she signed her citizenship certificate. For her, the reason is obvious.
“It is a better life for me and my family.”
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