Riva Nemr wiped tears from her eyes.
Even Marines cry sometimes.
Nemr became a citizen of the United States of America on Friday
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
said. “I looked around the room and there’s 3,500 of us. It was a
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
citizen, something she planned on doing anyway to make her
grandmother -- who saved for 20 years to bring her family here --
“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.”
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
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
“I am a Korean-American,” Kim said. “Now I can vote. I had to do
that for myself.”