By Roger McKinney
DIAMOND, Mo. —
Jacques Dipoko was a happy man on Friday.
Dipoko, of Springfield, came from Cameroon in Africa in 2007 to join family in the United States. He was among 37 immigrants from 27 countries who became U.S. citizens in a naturalization ceremony at George Washington Carver National Monument.
“I’m feeling good,” Dipoko said. “It’s a pleasure. There is safety and a lot of opportunity in America.”
He was at the ceremony with his girlfriend, his brother and another friend.
“Today’s my day,” he said of the event. “I hope God can bless this day for me.”
Danny Chapman moved to the U.S. six years ago from London, England, to marry his wife, Rose. They had met two years before that in a Yahoo! chat room. They live in Waynesville, and he works in the post exchange at Fort Leonard Wood.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “I worked hard to get here.”
He said that next to his wedding day, this ranks as one of the biggest days of his life.
“Excited,” Rose said about how she felt. “We started the process five years ago. It’s nice he’ll have the benefits of being a citizen.”
Sara Aponte, of Branson, moved to the U.S. from Mexico in 1997. She said her mom had family in the U.S. and her parents had just divorced. She said it was an important day.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m ready. It’s a really long and expensive process.”
Tanya Seu, from Ukraine, was brought to the U.S. as a small child in 1998. Now she’s 27 and lives in Willow Springs.
“I’m excited,” she said. “It’s a big day.”
Chunhui Chen, of Springfield, said she came to the U.S. from China in 2003. Her parents are U.S. citizens living in Los Angeles, and she said they encouraged her to become a citizen.
“I’m very happy, excited,” she said. “I want to stay here in America. I’m not Chinese anymore. I’m American.”
She called the ceremony “life-changing” and said despite her new citizenship, she can’t forget her heritage and culture.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Federman presided over the ceremony. He said his parents were naturalized citizens, German Jews who survived the Holocaust and came to the U.S. in 1946. He said as he grew up, they often told him stories of the reading and studying required to learn English and to learn about the customs of the United States so they could become citizens.
“I would encourage each of you to see this as a milestone, but not as a goal in and of itself,” he said.
He encouraged the new citizens to exercise their right to vote and to become informed voters. He encouraged them to become actively involved in their communities.
He said the U.S. is a diverse country because of them and people like them who came before.
“You shouldn’t abandon your roots,” he said. “You shouldn’t abandon the life and culture you came from. I would encourage each of you to remember where you came from.”
He said he enjoys naturalization ceremonies.
“I can presume that when we’re done, everyone will leave happy,” he said, noting that isn’t typical in court cases.
The minor children of the new citizens also automatically became citizens when the parent became a citizen.
Lana Henry, management assistant at George Washington Carver National Monument, said the park applied with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services more than a year ago to serve as host for a naturalization ceremony. She said this is the first time the monument had been the site of such an event. She said she hopes it can be repeated in the future.
Park Superintendent Jim Heaney said during the ceremony that the birthplace of George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery and became one of America’s greatest agriculture scientists, is an appropriate location for such a ceremony.
“Today we honor your struggles, your ambitions, your commitment and your dreams as American citizens,” Heaney said.
Some other nations represented by people at the naturalization ceremony on Friday included Nepal, Vietnam, Armenia, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Somalia, India and Japan.