94 new U.S. citizens join the ranks
ST. CLOUD -- An honor. A responsibility. An acceptance. A privilege.
But more than that, becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States meant new beginnings Wednesday morning for 94 people from 39 countries as they uttered an oath of allegiance in St. Cloud's City Hall.
Several Willmar residents pledged their patriotism by promising to "support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies" with their neighbors from across central and southern Minnesota.
It was the first naturalization ceremony held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in St. Cloud and one of the largest held outside of the Twin Cities.
Minnesota Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, along with members of a color guard, assembled under the administration of U.S. District Judge Ann D. Montgomery at 11 a.m. to welcome the nearly 100 people.
When the oath had been taken and Montgomery proclaimed the procedure official, flags waved, cheers erupted and tears flowed.
"This is the new face of America," Montgomery said as they rose to their feet to gleefully greet their friends and family members for the first time as U.S. citizens.
Representatives from the St. Cloud chapter of the League of Women Voters were also in attendance, offering warm words and voter registration services at the door.
For Abdulrizak Haji, formerly of Somalia, becoming a citizen was a milestone for him and his family. "This is something I'll never forget in all my life," he said with a beaming smile.
As for the next step, Haji said he planned to register to vote. But first, "I just want to enjoy this special day with my daughters." Haji currently lives with his family in Fridley.
John Zapata, currently of Brooklyn Park and formerly of Colombia, said he was "very, very happy and proud" to join his wife, Maria, as an American citizen.
"This is a big day," he said with one arm around his wife and another on his niece's shoulder. Ten-year-old Catalina quickly piped in, "Now we're going to celebrate with kebobs!"
The woman responsible for bringing the ceremony to St. Cloud is immigration attorney Laura Tripiciano, formerly of Willmar. As a new member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a current St. Cloud resident, Tripiciano recognized the need for having a ceremony closer to home.
As it stood, "people in St. Cloud -- and especially from Willmar -- had a very long drive ahead of them to pledge their allegiance in the Twin Cities' ceremonies. And that made it difficult for them to share their special day with friends and family," she said. "Having the ceremony here, it was much easier for many of our new citizens to share this joyful occasion."