Emotions ran high June 23 as 20 refugees from 12 different nations became new U.S. citizens with family and supporters looking on, along with a few hundred of their new new friends.
"What you have just accomplished is something that millions of people all around the world wish they had," Robert Mather, district director of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the new Americans. "And the best thing about all of this is that you never have to come see us again."
After swearing in the new citizens, Mather urged them to register to vote.
"But don't just vote because you can," he said. "Understand the issues. Get involved in your communities."
The ceremony, which capped two hours of singing, dancing and poetry from around the world, had an added plus: Hundreds of Treasure Valley residents who had made their way to Boise's Saturday market happened upon the celebration, which packed the Grove, part of World Refugee Day.
"When they ask you who you are, you tell them, 'I'm an American,' Mather told the new citizens.
An elderly gentleman wiped his hand over his tear-filled eyes as Mather reminded the crowd, "It's the pursuit of happiness and not the guarantee," that is being offered to Boise's new Americans.
The teary-eyed gentleman, Alberto Dominguez, came to the United States from Cuba and said it has been his dream to be a United States citizen for the past 22 years. Sitting next to Dominguez was his wife, Maria Dominguez from Mexico, who also became a new citizen on June 23.
“It’s one more dream in the United States, our whole family is here; it is very wonderful,” said Maria.
The area surrounding the Grove stage was filled with dozens of onlookers and ethnic booths. Vendors sold food, jewelry, housewares and more from a myriad of different countries. The smell wafting from a nearby booth selling African sambusas, a savory pastry, drew a steady stream of customers while dancers showcased moves from their native countries on stage.
Though it was a day for celebration, Mather was quick to remind the crowd that many refugees endure gut-wrenching experiences before coming to the United States. The process of acclimating to a new community and culture, and oftentimes learning a new language, is an added challenge on top of the grueling test required to gain citizenship. With the oldest new American receiving his citizenship certificate at 80-years-old, the accomplishment was nothing short of inspiring.