Thirty people from different corners of the globe gathered together to share in the same experience Friday: Becoming a U.S. citizen.
The naturalization ceremony was held at the International Institute of St. Louis. It was the first ceremony held at the institute's new location on Arsenal Street in south city. The International Institute moved into the building, which is four times larger than its previous location, earlier this year.
The new citizens hailed from 13 different countries including, China, Bosnia, Togo and Iraq.
The event was part of the International Institute's recognition of World Refugee Day, June 20. It’s a day to “honor those who flee violence and persecution and those who help them on their journey.”
Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, said in remarks that at least 15 of the people participating in the ceremony are former refugees.
During the ceremony, Crosslin stressed how important the new citizens are to Missouri.
“For whatever reason, you have come. It is wonderful from our point of view that you‘ve done so,” Crosslin said. "In truth, we need you in Missouri if we are going to strengthen our economy and be a truly global player in the new century. You are all valuable to building our economy and diversifying our culture.”
The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Missouri, along with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, oversaw the ceremony. At one point, new citizens had the chance to introduce themselves to the audience and share their thoughts. Many people expressed excitement and gratitude over becoming a U.S. citizen. St. Louis Public Radio asked a handful of new Americans what this day means to them.
Name: Elvisa Murica
Country of Origin: Bosnia
Year arrived in United States: 2000
What this day means to her: “It means the world to me. My two boys are first generation Americans and I am more than happy to be able to vote and serve on jury duty. This is one of the things … you know, this is what freedom is. You get to speak your mind and you have a voice and this is what America stands for.”
Name: Tefera Beachew Metaferia
Country of Origin: Ethiopia
Year arrived in United States: 2009
What this day means to him: “I see people you know from different walk of life, from different countries and this is a great day for me to be a part of that family. To be, you know, a citizen of this great land and, you know, I’m very very happy. Especially, I’m happy for my kids.”
Name: Mohammed Hassan Al Qazzaz
Country of Origin: Iraq
Year arrived in United States: 2010
What this day means to him: “Wherever you be in the world, you have to be good and when you have a place like United States you’re free for everything, you know. You can travel you can talk, you can speak. This is very great. In my country, it use to be like that, but in Saddam times he broke everything. He’s a dictator, you know. And I feel here, I’m a safe person with my family and this is very good. Thank god for that.”