With reasons as different as the countries they came from, and some reasons that were the same, 13 Alaskans became United States citizens on Friday in a naturalization ceremony administered by United States Magistrate Judge Leslie Longenbaugh in U.S. District Court at the Juneau Federal Courthouse.
“I was listening to the news and learning about Alaska and thought ‘wow, that is cool,’” Parisa Elahian, formerly of Iran, said. Elahian has been in Juneau for years and works for the state of Alaska. She left Iran and spent 10 months in Turkey to obtain her visa.
“I am really grateful to have this opportunity. I am a Baha’i and they persecute Baha’i’s in Iran, and the highest education we can get is the high school diploma.”
Elahian was thrilled for the opportunity of a higher education, a job and to be able to worship freely. Family members are still persecuted in Iran.
“It is very hard to be there now,” Elahian said. “The leading members of our faith are imprisoned right now and it is a hard place for women.”
Romeo Abad and wife Terestia were married more than 40 years ago in the Philippines.
“This is like a second marriage,” Romeo said as he and Terestia sat arm-in-arm in the federal courthouse. “And a honeymoon too.”
Arnel Ducay Bolanos has been in Juneau 55 years. He attended with his grandmother, Adeline, who was naturalized in 1986, and sons Clark and Brian. Bolanos, from the Philippines, works at the University of Alaska Southeast.
“I wasn’t ready before,” he said. “Now I am very excited.”
Michaela Brigitte Kruse grew up in a large Austrian city and loves the mountains of Juneau. Kruse has been in the U.S. 30 years and in Juneau for 18 working as a systems analyst.
“I decided it was time,” Kruse said. “And I really liked it here. Always when I travel to Austria my people say I am going home, but the U.S. has been my home for so long that now, for sure, Juneau is my home and this ceremony has special meaning. I want to vote so my voice can be heard.”
Eight-year Ketchikan resident Rogelia Vergara Catibayan from the Philippines said it was too cold here, but he wanted to exercise his right to vote.
“Alaska is so beautiful,” state worker Olena Viktorovna Santana, originally from the Ukraine, said. “It is so pretty. Some parts are like the Ukraine. The people here are really nice and friendly.”
Others being naturalized on Friday included, from Ethiopia, Samuel Girma Bezabih; from the Philippines, Amelia Abad Lucas, Mark Lester Seriano Gaceta, Yolinda Candelario Mariano, Marie Medina Finkenbinder, and Gian Kharlo Pagala Batac; and from the United Kingdom, Katherine Laura Hudson.
Eligibility for naturlization requires five years residency in the U.S. and the ability to speak, read, and understand English.
U.S. congressional delegation representatives Connie McKenzie and Sally Smith, members of Don Young’s and Lisa Murkowski’s staffs, stated that upon becoming citizens today, the newly naturalized were contributing to the strength of the United States, as we have all come from somewhere else at some time.
Immigrations Services Officer Nicole Antoine presented certificates to each new citizen and the Juneau Emblem Club No. 90, Elks Lodge No. 420 and the League of Women Voters were present with aid and welcomes.
“I speak for all of us in the United States District Court of Alaska when I say we are very grateful to take part in this important day in your life,” Longenbaugh said. “You are all every bit as American as those who have come before you, let me be the first to welcome you.”
Each new citizen was given a chance to speak. Shyly approaching the microphone, nursing home attendant Gian Kharlo Pagala Batac, formerly of the Philippines and now an eight-year resident of Juneau said, “I call this, Juneau, home. It is a very nice place to live, and the people are so nice.”
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