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‘I’m so happy today’: Thousands attend L.A. naturalization ceremony

Karla Mazariego waited years for this day.

On Wednesday, she joined more than 6,700 people at the Los Angeles Convention Center to become a United States citizen. It was the first naturalization ceremony at the convention center since the presidential inauguration, and while most felt proud as they took their oath, they also had mixed emotions. 

“I’m excited,” said Mazariego, 28, a native of El Salvador. “But with all that’s going on with politics, this also feels like an overcast day to me.” 

The graduate student, who came to the United States at age 6, is the first in her family to become a citizen. She said many of her relatives are now preparing to file their applications for citizenship and residency.

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“They’re scared they could have everything taken away,” said Mazariego, of Boyle Heights.

For many, the 25-minute ceremony marked a long-awaited milestone. Some had hoped to become naturalized in time to vote in the 2016 election, but their paperwork did not come through in time. Now, they looked forward to 2020. 

Standing in line with an American flag in her hand, Irma Slapsinskaite of Lithuania had family on her mind. She came overseas to study graphic design and then fell in love with an American. The couple just got married and live in Los Feliz. 

Slapsinskaite was not concerned about politics.

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“All this is not affecting European countries,” she said. “So I’m not thinking about that.”

But for others the day felt bittersweet, given recent news of the travel ban, immigration crackdowns and other measures proposed by President Trump.

“This is not good. It reminds me of the ethnic fighting of my country,” said Girum Bekel, 47, of Ethiopia. “I’m so happy today because I feel safe and protected, but many others don’t.”

The ceremony, which included people from 140 countries, usually includes a video message from the president. For the last eight years, it was Barack Obama who came on the screen with a welcome message. 

Trump’s address had not been filmed yet, so a video was not shown Wednesday. 

“It’s better this way,” said Rocina Morales, 52, of Santa Ana. “Seeing him would just make me sad.”

Among those being sworn in was Maria Fernandez of Boyle Heights. The 54-year-old homemaker has lived in the United States more than 30 years.

Her husband, Ignacio Tobar, had constantly pushed her to become naturalized.

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“I never thought I was smart enough to get through all those questions,” she said as she waited in line for a seat Wednesday afternoon.

Her husband wasn’t in attendance, however. He died in an assault a year ago. Fernandez later found out he had secretly submitted her citizenship application. 

She passed the test without making a single mistake.

“He knew I could do it,” Fernandez said. “He believed in me.”

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

@LATBermudez 

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UPDATES:

5:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the naturalization ceremony and was further edited.

This article was originally published at 3 p.m. 


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