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‘Proud to be an American’

Rosette Gonzales

Riva Nemr wiped tears from her eyes.

Even Marines cry sometimes.

Nemr became a citizen of the United States of America on Friday

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and crying signified both joy and a sense of relief for the Lebanese

immigrant who finally felt free.

“I don’t know how to explain it because you think about what

people do to try and get their citizenship,” the Glendale resident

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said. “I looked around the room and there’s 3,500 of us. It was a

great moment.”

When Nemr, 26, first came to America seven years ago, she hardly

spoke English but was so proud to be in the country, she wanted work

in public service. Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, she

joined the Marine Corps hoping her language skills in Arabic and

French would lead to a linguistics career. But in order to have an

occupational specialty in the military she needed to become a

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citizen, something she planned on doing anyway to make her

grandmother -- who saved for 20 years to bring her family here --

proud.

“I wanted to please my grandmother because she worked so hard to

get us here from Lebanon,” Nemr said. “You have no rights there and

you have rights here. I’ve seen it all in Lebanon -- being in

shelters ... when my dad, he goes away and you never know if he’s

going to come back.”

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Nemr knows what it’s like to not have freedom and to not know if

your house, family or pets will be there at the end of the day. The

American virtue of freedom is worth fighting for, she said.

But health reasons forced Nemr into medical retirement from the

Marines and she won’t be able to fight the way she thought. But she

still plans to go to Glendale Community College, eventually become a

linguist and hopefully work for the FBI or CIA.

“I just want to work for the government, even if it means working

for the post office,” joked Nemr, who worked for a short while in

information technology. “Computers, they give you money, but

languages, they save lives.”

People who work to become citizens have distinct goals and ideas

of what they want to achieve here, said Mary-Esther Johnson of United

States citizenship and immigration services.

“We don’t know each and every story of these individuals ... but

we know they come to this country having dreams of becoming a citizen

and that gives them rights that they didn’t have in that other

country,” Johnson said. “They come to us for a better life;

economically, to go to college and it’s something to give to their

children.”

Peter Kim has always known freedom. He was only 2 when his family

immigrated to the United States, but the 30-year-old Burbank High

School graduate, originally from South Korea, said that growing up he

was always conscious of the fact that wasn’t a citizen.

“There were those feelings of knowing I’m not going to be able to

vote and things like that,” Kim said.

Kim’s application to become a citizen took longer than usual

because officials lost his paperwork, he said.

The process is a reminder that despite only having memories of

America, he is an immigrant, Kim said. “I feel as much of an American

as anyone who was born here but because of that technicality that I

wasn’t born here ... there’s that incomplete feeling,” Kim said. “I

didn’t expect to get emotional but at that point when the judge said

‘You are officially nationalized as a U.S. citizen,’ that part was

emotional. It’s just great to finalize pretty much who I am.”

During the nationalization ceremony in Pomona, a music video of

“Proud to be an American” played while American scenes and icons of

freedom, like the statue of liberty, flashed across the screen.

The group of 3,500 individuals waited outside the giant Pomona

Fairplex hall under the hot sun until it was time to be let in. Each

one was handed an American flag, which they waived often, some

holding to their hearts as they pledged allegiance and were sworn in

as citizens.

“I am a Korean-American,” Kim said. “Now I can vote. I had to do

that for myself.”


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