20 service members representing 15 countries become U.S. citizens aboard USS Midway Museum
Twenty members of the armed forces — representing the Navy, Marine Corps and National Guard — became U.S. citizens Friday aboard the USS Midway Museum as part of Independence Day celebrations taking place across the country.
Administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the naturalization ceremony was one of 140 around the nation being held through July 8, including a total of 6,600 immigrant service members.
“We know that the freedoms we, as a people, have been allowed to enjoy are due to the sacrifices made by all of you: the men, women and family members of our outstanding military,” USCIS San Diego Field Office Director Madeline Kristoff said at the ceremony. “Though you have come here today to take the final step in your immigration journey, the truth is that your American story began long ago when you first pledged allegiance to our country and to defend the values that set America apart.”
What began as a blustery, overcast morning quickly brightened into a sunny San Diego day as the service members took their seats aboard the USS Midway Museum, preparing for a life-changing moment.
“When you take this oath, you’re going to be bound by an allegiance to the United States of America,” Chief District Judge Dana Sabraw said. “But we don’t ask that you give up the love, affection and affinity to your previous countries and cultures. As we all know, they add strength to our country.”
Sabraw began the ceremony by asking the service members to stand when their previous country of citizenship was read aloud. Fifteen countries were represented: Bahrain, Brazil, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Once standing, the group raised their right hands and voices in unity to take the oath of allegiance.
From the historic battleship’s flight deck, an assemblage of friends, family and fellow service members erupted in cheers, many waving miniature American flags.
Originally from Kenya, Seaman Ndungu Mbugua has been in the Navy for a year and a half, eagerly awaiting the day he would become a U.S. citizen.
“I came here in search of a new life and greater opportunity,” Mbugua said.
Joined by his sister and niece, he planned to commemorate the milestone with a celebratory lunch.
“The journey was really tough,” Mbugua said. “I’ve been through trials and tribulations, but I’m grateful right now.”
When Lance Cpl. Mohamed Bahman moved to the U.S. from Bahrain in 2011, he applied for citizenship regularly. Eventually he realized the life he desired could be attained through military service.
“It’s the end to a long road — finally getting U.S. citizenship,” Bahman said. “A lot of people go through this process, and I got lucky.”
To him, becoming a naturalized citizen means more independence.
“[It means] traveling the world, doing things I would otherwise not be able to do,” Bahman said.
As he was called to receive his certificate, a chorus of cheers rose from the audience. All of his co-workers attended the ceremony to support him.
After 10 years of living in the U.S., Engineman Fireman Gong Zhang views his naturalization as a new beginning for his family.
“It’s the start of the American dream,” he said, holding one of his two young children in an embrace.
Zhang has taken up many jobs to support his family since moving to the U.S. from China, including massage therapist and Uber driver. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, Zhang lost his job and decided to join the military for its many benefits.
Zhang planned to celebrate his new citizenship with his wife and children by buying a new piano for his son, whose birthday is on July 4.
“At my age, I don’t need to celebrate a lot for myself,” Zhang said. “We do it all for the kids. It’s all about the family.”
For Navy Hospital Corpsman Shadé Deondré Forth, family was also at the center of her citizenship journey. After following her mother from Jamaica to the U.S., Deondré Forth decided that becoming a service member would enable her to stay close to her family and pursue a purposeful career.
She joined the Navy after graduating high school a year and a half ago.
“I was a bit nervous before the ceremony,” Deondré Forth said. “But now I feel like a weight has finally been lifted.”
Originally from Vietnam, Marine Corps Cpl. Hung Hoang was excited to become a citizen after three years of military service. One of his main motivations throughout the journey has been taking care of a parent with an illness.
“I came to America for a better life — to support my father,” Hoang said. “[This ceremony] represents a new chapter.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.