Despite living in the U.S. for decades, Victoria Prado was never recognized as a citizen.
At 5 years old, she immigrated to the United States with her family from Mexico City, searching for a life with more opportunities. It wasn’t until later in Prado’s adulthood that she began researching how to become a citizen — a year-and-a-half-long process that eventually led her to an airplane hangar in Vancouver on a brisk Thursday morning.
Prado, now 31, twirled a small American Flag between her fingertips as she sat with 39 other people who hailed from 20 countries with the same goal: earn their U.S. citizenship. Their pursuit was coming to an end, as they would soon gain their certificate of completion in a naturalization ceremony held at the Pearson Air Museum at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
“In all cases the path to becoming a citizen of the United States is one that requires dedication, commitment, courage and endurance, but your service citizenship, just like your life story, does not end today,” said Tracy Fortmann, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site superintendent.
For Prado, this was something she yearned to gain for years. She would be able to obtain federal benefits, travel with a U.S. passport or even run for elected office. But there was one right in particular she was delighted to have.
“I’m excited to be able to vote,” she said.
Before the ribbon could be tied on the naturalization process, candidates pledged their Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Margaret Rosenast, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Portland field office director, read the oath and paused between sentences so aspirants could repeat the promises.
In unison, candidates declared their renouncement of any previous allegiance to a foreign state, sovereignty or leader. They pledged to serve in the military or civilian capacity when required by law, as well as support and defend the Constitution and country’s laws.
“I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God,” Rosenast read.
Earning U.S. citizenship is a laudable yet arduous endeavor that many of the candidates should be proud of achieving. But leaving their home country can be just as difficult to do.
Minh Pham, Vietnamese Community of Clark County president and keynote speaker, was 16 when he immigrated to the U.S. in 1984, he told the crowd. Pham was a refugee in a new country who was required to navigate language barriers and new cultural customs by himself — a journey made more difficult away from loved ones.
Still, he triumphed and was able to achieve his goals of graduating college with a degree in computer engineering and raising a family. Pham told the candidates that he found hope and solace in taking action through voting or volunteering.
“You have the power to make things better,” he told the crowd.
Pritika Prasad believes she’s on the right path to do that.
In 2016, Prasad moved to the U.S. from Suva, Fiji, and has worked ever since. As an activities assistant at a health and memory care facility, Prasad is responsible for helping residents remain healthy and comfortable, leading her to view them as a secondary family.
“I’m just excited to be a part of the family and this country,” she said.
There were people at the event from Burma, El Salvador, Eritrea, Fiji, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mexico, Moldova, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Tonga, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Hannes Geiger, Immigration Services officer, said each candidate was examined by the agency, which found that they exemplified good moral character and followed principles set by the Constitution. They demonstrated their ability to understand English and knowledge of the country’s history and government.
“They are eligible in every respect to be a U.S. citizen,” Geiger said.
Rosenast harkened on the value of opportunity. Millions of immigrants have enriched America through their contributions, whether through volunteering, creating businesses or fostering a community. She urged those in front of her to continue this legacy.
“For most of us our lives are lived in the passage of dates that seem very similar to each other. Our challenge is to make our lives meaningful in our ordinary circumstances,” Rosenast said. “We hope that this is such a day for you.”