TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - On July 4th at Saguaro National Park West, 20 people from 19 countries became U.S. citizens, and now they celebrate Independence Day as Americans. It was the ninth such ceremony to be held at SNP in partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The Honorable Judge Bruce G. Macdonald presided over the naturalization ceremony, which included remarks from Saguaro National Park Superintendent Leah McGinnis, and U.S. Congressman Raúl Grijalva, who is also Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, as the keynote speaker.
“The Declaration of Independence’s words have long been a beacon of hope and opportunity for millions around the world. ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’,” said McGinnis as she welcomed the new citizens. “These national park units are a collective expression of where we have been, what sacrifices have been made to get here, the errors we have learned from and how our values have been forged from those lessons.”
It was a happy day for all, including Kate Havins, who was all smiles. Havins is from South Korea, but has been living in the U.S. for the last eight years, working in Tucson as a hairstylist. She has been waiting for this day.
"I am an American, so I am going to eat hamburgers and drink beer, Budweiser" said Havins. "I feel like free. I feel free, just something grateful."
Her journey to citizenship began back in March. An easy process, according to Havins, who studied a lot to pass the test. And now with the shake of a hand on the Fourth of July, Havins became a U.S. citizen.
The ceremony came to a close with Mariachi singer, Kiana Martinez performing a beautiful a cappella rendition of The National Anthem that clearly emoted pride from the candidates with their hands firmly over their hearts.
“This is a really great opportunity you know,” Havins said. “It’s on independence day, I became independent.”
After the ceremonies, the new citizens and their friends and families celebrated in the Red Hills Visitor Center. Park staff and volunteers served cake and refreshments, generously donated by Friends of Saguaro, a non-profit fundraising partner of the park. Some new citizens purchased t-shirts and stickers, while others went off site to celebrate with their families. Some of the new Americans shared their thoughts about becoming naturalized citizens.
"I’m so happy and grateful that my husband and I had the opportunity to become American citizens on this commemorative day, not just for our Country, but for us as a family. This Park is so beautiful, we plan on coming back soon, as well as visiting other national parks," said new citizen Patricia O’Dealee, in a SNP news release.
Countries the new citizens came from included the following: Belarus, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, India, Mexico, Ghana, Iran, Eritrea, Hungary, Mauritania, the Philippines, Syria, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zambia.
Recognizing the importance of having naturalization ceremonies in national parks, Superintendent McGinnis stated in a SNP news release, “It is an honor to continue the tradition of hosting this special event here at Saguaro National Park. We hope these individuals return for a visit with their loved ones and embrace their citizenship through stewardship of their public lands.”
“The National Park Service and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have a formal partnership promoting citizenship ceremonies by holding them in national parks throughout the country. This partnership helps to introduce new citizens to some of the nation’s most spectacular natural and cultural resource sites. These historic and picturesque sites provide an ideal backdrop for citizenship ceremonies, where new citizens can learn about and reflect on American identity and the responsibilities of citizenship,” said Cam Juárez, Community Engagement Coordinator for SNP.