56 granted U.S. citizenship in ceremony at Carver monument

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May 25—DIAMOND, Mo. — There is a comparison to be made between George Washington Carver and the 56 immigrants who became U.S. citizens on Thursday in a ceremony at the national monument honoring Carver.

"Like all African-Americans of his era, Carver endured racism and segregation that often robbed him of the fruits of citizenship," James Heaney, monument superintendent, told the immigrants and family members who attended the ceremony. "He would prevail, however, and find his life's mission at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he became a renowned scientist and educator.

"Today we honor your experiences, your commitments and your dreams," Heaney told the new U.S. citizens who came to this nation from 29 countries in search of a new life, a better life, they said, for them and their families.

Those who came to be naturalized were from countries such as Guyana, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Jamaica, Mexico, the Philippines, Somalia, Russia and Ukraine.

Esther Saggurthi, from India, one of those who took the oath of allegiance at the ceremony, said she was thankful and happy for citizenship.

"It's a nice country," she said. "I consider it a privilege to live here. The opportunities that we have here for our children, better education and better life, and it's a beautiful country. I consider it as God's mercy. I never realized when I was born that I be living in another country. But we take it as a privilege to enter into this country and become a citizen, and I take it as a God-given opportunity to live in this country."

Another new citizen, Sue Ann Williams, of Washburn, said the process has been a lengthy one although she grew up thinking she was an American.

"Being brought here as a baby (from Guyana) and being told at age 14 that I was not an American, that I was not born here, it kind of cut me to the heart because you are brought up saying the Pledge of Allegiance." But she had to be patient, she said, because it took 12 years for her to get her green card.

On Thursday, after the ceremony fulfilled her wish to be an American, Williams said that "it was awesome. It feels really good. It was worth the wait."

Nicolas Olivares-Dias, a naturalized citizen who is a member of the Crowder College Foundation board of directors, told the crowd he was born in Mexico. In 1998, he struck out with $1,000 to travel to the U.S. He became a citizen in 2009.

U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool said that those who are U.S. citizens do not realize how privileged they are compared with people who live in many other countries. For one, disputes can be settled by the rule of law in the courts. Another reason is that U.S. citizens have the right to vote. If people do not like those who are elected, they can work to elect someone else, he said.

Other speakers were Jarico Oeltjen, president of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, and Jimmy Sexton, vice president of the Carver Birthplace Association.

Statements were read from U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt, and U.S. Rep. Eric Burlison.

Members of Joplin High School's Junior ROTC served as the color guard and presented the colors to open the ceremony. The Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School's Upper School Vocal Ensemble performed the national anthem and "America the Beautiful."

A reception was held after the ceremony where there was voter registration and information was available from the League of Women Voters and both the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution. Joplin NALA Read also was on hand to provide information about literacy assistance.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service often conducts naturalization ceremonies in national parks.

In Missouri, they are conducted in various cities and locations in addition to the Carver monument, including Springfield, Jefferson City and Kansas City, the judge told the Globe.

Harpool, whose court is based in Kansas City, said he conducts about two ceremonies a year in Southwest Missouri with group sizes ranging from about 60 to 120.