John Rieping/The Madera Tribune
Fifty immigrants from 15 nations raise their right hands Tuesday to swear allegiance to the U.S. at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.
Fifty people from 15 countries, from Australia to Zambia, became naturalized U.S. citizens this week before a panoramic view of eastern Yosemite Valley.
All immigrants present at Glacier Point on Tuesday applied for the picturesque privilege to become citizens there. The naturalization ceremony, complete with slices of apple pie for all, was one of many taking place in national parks across the country this week to coincide with Constitution Week.
One of those naturalized is Theresa Williams, director of public relations and sales for Visit Yosemite | Madera County. The Australian immigrant first met her husband, Paul, during a three-month vacation in 2011.
“Flying over to California, I sat next to two lovely people who were my husband’s friends,” she said. “They invited me to the fundraiser and my handsome husband was there.”
They would marry in Sydney, Australia, in 2013. But her husband is not her only tie to the U.S. Her grandmother, Angela Rizzuto, had been born in Syracuse, New York, to Italian immigrants. She lived there until age 5, when her family returned to Italy.
“America is in my blood,” she said. “It really means a lot to my husband and my family that I took the steps to become a citizen and that I can make change by having a vote.”
Another new citizen, Yuli Gotsev, worked at Bass Lake in Madera County after he came from Bulgaria as part of a four-month student exchange program. He later graduated from Fresno City College and Fresno Pacific University.
“I remember calculating the ratios of (immigration) applicants and petitions granted and … my calculations were (that) if I applied eight times I’ll get it,” said Gotsev, who was surprised when his first application was approved.
He now lives two miles from the southern boundary of Yosemite National Park.
“It’s been 13 years and (today is a) good day to put a closure on the immigration path and start a new journey,” he said. “(It) feels like (being) a rock star right now, just excited. It’s great … It’s a privilege.”
New citizen Venturo Vigilio of Mexico drew much attention wearing a flag-covered jacket that his son had ordered for him online. After his oath of allegiance, he spoke via smartphone video chat with his son, who is serving in Africa with the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He has been serving the government for 17 years but he got sent there now,” Vigilio said in Spanish. “He would love to be here now but he Facetimed me so we could see each other. He said when he comes back we’ll celebrate this day.”
Vigilio loved becoming a U.S. citizen in Yosemite National Park.
“I have been living for 35 years here in Riverbank,” he said, “and I had never come here to the park … It was a very special day that I’ll remember my whole life, and my grand children will also remember.”