Seven years after coming to the U.S. from Panama, the 4th of July now takes on a whole new meaning for Pablo Perez.
On Tuesday morning, he was one of the 22 people representing eight different countries who officially became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at Saguaro National Park West.
I dont have the words to say how I feel right now, but I feel really happy to become a U.S. citizen, he told KGUN.
Perez not only received his citizenship, but also an American Flag wood carving made by his brother-in-law, Christopher Thompson.
Kind of a family tradition, I guess, to become a U.S. citizen, Thompson said, explaining how he and his wife adopted a girl from Panama who became a U.S. citizen. Later, his mother and father-in-law did so and now his brother and sister-in-law are becoming citizens this month.
Everybody in my family has served in the military, Thompson explained. My dad and my uncles, my grandfathers, my brothers. And the reason we served was so that people like Pablo could become U.S. citizens, people like the people in this room could become U.S. citizens. And have those freedoms that we have.
It mean a lot to me to be here, supporting my brother, said Bielka Thompson, Perezs sister. Its a process for them to get here. So it mean a lot to me to see them to become U.S. citizen like me too.
Its a really, really big thing, you know? Perez said. I worked really hard to be here. Studied my hundred questions, studied the language really hard. Its my second language Im really happy.
Tuesdays new Americans come from Mexico, Panama, France, Iraq, Vietnam, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Philippines.
Saguaro National Park East hosts another naturalization ceremony in October, on National Immigrants Day.
We really wanna give folks the opportunity to participate in something so American, like our National Parks, but also July 4th. And then becoming a U.S. citizen, said Cam Jurez, Saguaro National Parks Community Engagement & Outreach Coordinator. Its not just about them becoming citizens. Its about them taking on this responsibility as stewards of these public lands.
Jurez says this is the 10th time Saguaro West has hosted a naturalization ceremony on the 4th of July.
Pima County Recorder Gabriella Czares-Kelly was the keynote speaker.
After the ceremony, she and volunteers from the League of Women Voters helped several of the new Americans and their families register to vote.