Suzanne Sheer Cole turned toward the large American flag behind the stage and raised the microphone to her mouth.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” she said, leading the crowd including some 97 newly naturalized citizens, herself one of them, through the Pledge of Allegiance. But before she could mutter republic, nation, liberty or justice, her voice cracked and her eyes started to water.
“It’s good that it didn’t go on any longer or I would have started to cry,” she said after the ceremony. “I’m just so proud of this place. I feel like I’m home.”
The Canadian-born woman was one of the Eastern Washington residents who gathered Monday morning at the CenterPlace event center in Spokane Valley for a naturalization ceremony led by Chief Judge Thomas O. Rice of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington.
Organized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in recognition of Constitution Day – the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution – many of the 97 migrants from 39 countries came to the auditorium after years of waiting and grinding through an application process that can take more than a decade to complete.
“I’m so excited,” said Danielle Xu, a Gonzaga University professor who teaches finance. “I’m honored to be a U.S. citizen.”
Xu, who came to America from China in 1999, applied for citizenship 13 years ago when she started working at Gonzaga after earning her doctorate in finance at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
She said she knew the process could be long, arduous and frustrating. But coming from China, she also knew there were likely thousands of people ahead of her. And she never became disheartened.
“I was prepared,” she said. “There’s always a long line.”
Saed Nemr from Jordan had a similar experience. After earning his doctorate in medicine in his home country, he came to the U.S. in 2006 and from there, to Spokane from the East Coast.
He said he chose the Inland Northwest because the area had a shortage of kidney transplant doctors. He now works at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“It’s just the fact that I want to help people,” he said. “Be helpful.”
Before reciting the oath of allegiance led by Rice, those gathered watched a video narrated by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court, where she opened up about her own family’s history with naturalization.
“Although my own parents were born in Puerto Rico, a United States territory, they too were migrants,” she said. “Through their experiences, I can appreciate that for many of you, if not all of you, the price of citizenship has been very high.”
Rice welcomed them with praise.
“You will now be our neighbors,” he said. “Our friends. Our citizens. That is what makes America great.”