As soon as 24-year-old Manuela Mejia officially became a naturalized American citizen Wednesday at the Boulder Public Library, she darted into the hallway where people were waiting with clipboards to register to vote.
Mejia, a Boulder resident who emigrated from Colombia seven years ago, was among 41 northern Colorado residents from 21 countries whose friends and families erupted into cheers and applause and waved star-spangled banners in celebration of their loved ones earning U.S. citizenship status at a ceremony at the library.
“Next year, I’ll be ready to go (vote),” Mejia said. “I’ll have my research done, more than I did before I was a citizen.”
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse congratulated the area’s newest citizens on their hard work, perseverance and patriotic dedication to pass the citizenship test and make a commitment to serve the country when called upon.
Among those honored were five Longmont residents from Brazil, Mexico and the Bahamas; 19 Boulder residents from China, Nepal, Poland, the Czech Republic, Colombia, Finland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada and the Netherlands; two Lafayette residents from the United Kingdom and Venezuela; two Loveland residents from Iraq and Kenya; one Erie resident from Germany; one Frederick resident from Canada; a Berthoud resident from Cambodia; a Mead resident from Indonesia; and Fort Collins, Timnath, Fort Lupton, Greeley and Evans residents from Myanmar, Guatemala and elsewhere across the world.
Longmont resident Arturo Ibarra, who works at Whole Foods, gained his citizenship after living in the country for almost 40 years since leaving his native Mexico. After going so long without successfully pursuing citizenship, he said what pushed him to take the final step was his admiration for the United States.
“I love the country,” Ibarra said. “I feel happy to live here.”
Mejia discussed the difficulties of transitioning into American life as a 17-year-old with only six months of high school to finish, and how her family’s support and guidance, which she recognized many other immigrants don’t have when they arrive, was the difference that allowed her to follow her higher education dreams. She now works for the University of Colorado’s School of Education.
“Going through the college application process without knowing anything about the U.S. college system was terrifying,” Mejia said. “… I feel complete in a way, and that I have everything I’ve worked really hard toward.”
Eugene Cartwright, a 32-year-old native of the Bahamas and now a Longmont firmware engineer, shared a long hug and a kiss with his partner after the ceremony. He said when he moved to the United States about 15 years ago, he had visited his grandmother in the states before.
“I feel relief,” he said. “I already knew I wanted to stay here, I wasn’t moving back home. I’ve established a family here.”
Boulder resident and Madagascar native Soma Glick, an acupuncturist and herbalist, addressed her fellow new citizens as part of the ceremony, speaking about how she “fell in love” with the United States long before moving here when she joined the American Cultural Center in her native country.
“My feelings can’t be expressed into words,” Glick said. “It felt like more than what I thought it was going to be, like achievement, love and connection with everyone here.”
Anita Stuehler, who, through the Intercambio Uniting Communities organization, for 14 years has tutored Boulder-area residents from 70 countries aiming to pass the federal citizenship test, said she never makes it through a ceremony without shedding tears.
Wednesday’s event was no exception.
“They make me cry, it’s so incredible,” Stuehler said. “I know they’re happy to be here. I’ve heard stories like, ‘I’ve never felt safe before, and I have a home now.’ They have to study so hard.”