Smiles, tears as hundreds take oath as U.S. citizens Thursday

There they stood, 487 new U.S. citizens, brimming with smiles or crying or doing both as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.

They are Americans for sure -- sporting Air Jordans, pulling out iPhones and posting Facebook pictures during their naturalization ceremony Thursday at the Fisher Pavilion.

Many waved mini American flags. Some got teary-eyed as they made eye contact with their loved ones in the crowd.As is tradition on the Fourth of July in Seattle, hundreds of immigrants and refugees from around the state were sworn in as new citizens.

“This used to feel like someone else’s holiday. Now it’s my holiday too,” said Mario Campos of Mexico City, who now lives on Bainbridge Island.“

Gov. Jay Inslee called it the most “refreshing, inspiring day that I have had” in office.

It was also a personal one for him.

His cousin, Jennifer Inslee, married a Vietnamese woman named Star Rush in April in a ceremony in the Governor’s mansion. Rush was born in Saigon and lives in Ballard with Inslee. Thursday, Rush, 45, was among those sworn in at the ceremony.

“It feels like a new day,” Rush said. “An additional layer to my already complex identity.”

This year’s class of new citizens came from 86 different countries; the largest groups were from the Philippines (56), Mexico (39) and South Korea (33).

They were among the 7,800 nationwide who took the Oath of Allegiance this week.

Seattle is one of the few cities on the West Coast that holds the ceremony on Independence Day, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.

Among those was Yongmin Ko, 20, who left South Korea at age 11 in hopes of a better future. Now a chemistry major at The University of Washington, Ko spent her spring break in Eastern Washington tutoring Native American middle school students.

It was a vow she made a long time ago -- to help others in need just as others had helped her when she was a scared, little girl who spoke no English in a foreign land without her parents.

There was Belinda Jackson-Braggs, 33, of Spanaway who grew up in a remote village in western Kenya without electricity or hot water.

She feels rich, not rich in the American material wealth sense, but rich with possibilities -- the freedom of religion and speech and the ability to travel far by plane or car.

There’s so much more opportunity here, she said. You could get an education with financial aid, borrow money to start a business or buy a home. She appreciates the little things: a washing machine, a television, a car.

After the 90-minute ceremony, Jackson-Braggs said she and her husband plan to celebrate with a “barbecue and just watch some fireworks.”

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