LOS ANGELES – In nearly a century since her Iranian birth, Khatoun Khoykani has lived through revolutions and world wars.
Now, 15 years after moving to the United States, the 99-year-old can add to the list the unlikely experience of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Khoykani joined about 3,700 other people on Friday for a naturalization ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
“I’m so excited, I can’t even think,” Khoykani said in Farsi.
The moment marked a rare achievement as Khoykani became the oldest person this year to join the small group of naturalized citizens in the Los Angeles area who are over 95, said Claire Nicholson, who represents the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Los Angeles.
Only 27 people older than 100 have become citizens in the past 50 years in the U.S., the agency says.
“You have to commend this woman. It’s pretty remarkable,” Nicholson said. “We don’t get too many people her age.”
The oldest person to become a citizen was Manik Bokchalian, a Turkish immigrant who lived in Los Angeles. She was 117 when she took the oath in 1997, Nicholson said.
During the Pledge of Allegiance, Khoykani’s daughter helped her mother from a wheelchair and watched intently as she placed her hand over her heart.
“When I was little, my mom always talked about coming to America,” Clara Khachadurian said. “We’re so happy for her.”
Khoykani had dreamed of moving to the U.S. since her grandfather boasted about the country when she was a child.
She came to this country in 1998 to be with her three children, who had left Iran nearly 30 years ago. Four years ago, she almost missed a chance at citizenship.
When she was 93, Khoykani’s husband was diagnosed with brain cancer, and she went back to Iran to take care of him. When he died in 2009, she wanted to return to the U.S., but the government attempted to revoke her green card because she had been gone longer than six months.
Khachadurian traveled to Iran and was able to bring her mother back to Los Angeles after a lengthy legal process.
Despite the tumultuous experience, there was no sign of stress during Friday’s festivities.
“I’m shaking because I’m so happy,” Khoykani said as she wiped away tears of joy. “There’s no place like this in the entire world.”
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