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As some endure post-election anxiety, new U.S. citizens in St. Louis are full of hope

Arjun Sidhu holds an American flag while sitting with his mother, Mandeep Sidhu, originally from India, at a naturalization ceremony held at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Nov. 10, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
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Arjun Sidhu holds an American flag while sitting with his mother, Mandeep Sidhu, originally from India, at a naturalization ceremony held at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Nov. 10, 2016.

While much of the nation remains at odds over the results of the November elections, some people are feeling more optimistic for the future than ever. Newly naturalized U.S. citizens in the St. Louis region are excited to be a part of the country, and many are raring to vote.

At a naturalization ceremony held last week at the International Institute of St. Louis, 39 people from 24 different countries stood together in front of a crowded room for the first time as new citizens.

Among them was Lenilson Pereira Dos Santos Coutinho, a clinical medial physicist who was born in Brazil. Coutinho, who came to the United States for graduate school, laments not being able to vote on Nov. 8. Now that he’s a citizen, he can’t wait for future elections.

Twenty-five new citizens from 20 different countries were naturalized during a ceremony at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Nov. 10, 2016.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Twenty-five new citizens from 20 different countries were naturalized during a ceremony at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Nov. 10, 2016.

“I’m [an] optimistic person, so I do not necessarily like the results but I believe that the democratic process in America is strong enough to guarantee that we’re going to have a good future.”

By the end of the year, St. Louis will have hosted 43 naturalization ceremonies, with at least another 35 planned for next year. The region hosts at least three a month for about 150 new citizens, said Jeanne Kadane, human resources coordinator for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

“It would be far more if we were in a place like New York or Chicago,” said Kadane, who helps organize the ceremonies. “But it’s quite a few more than people might think.”

Coutinho isn’t the only new citizen in good spirits. Others who joined him in the ceremony are thrilled to be in the United States, even after a campaign season rife with anti-immigrant rhetoric, from local to federal races.

Mostafa Obaid, originally from Iraq, is congratulated after becoming a United States citizen at a naturalization ceremony hosted by the International Institute on Dec. 2, 2016.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Mostafa Obaid, originally from Iraq, is congratulated after becoming a United States citizen at a naturalization ceremony hosted by the International Institute on Dec. 2, 2016.

The region’s newest citizens include Annie Martin, a native of the Netherlands who came to the country in 1969 after marrying an American from Buffalo, New York.

“It makes you feel more a part of everything really, you know?” Martin said.  “I was always over the years a part, but now it’s really a direct feeling. Now I’m really an American citizen. Before, there was still a little bit of Dutch — it always will be there but still, you know what I mean, it’s more direct.”

Twenty-five new citizens from 20 different countries were naturalized during a ceremony at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Nov. 10, 2016.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Twenty-five new citizens from 20 different countries were naturalized during a ceremony at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Nov. 10, 2016.

At a time when many people are still overwhelmed by a divisive presidential contest and the ongoing debates over the nation’s future, Martin prefers to dwell on the positive, including her new right to vote — her primary motivation for becoming a citizen. When the League of Women Voters was registering new voters after the ceremony, Martin was the first in line.

Longtime U.S. residents Dinko and Sara Saric, born in Bosnia, took their oath of allegiance to the United States on the same day. Dinko Saric acknowledges the post-election anxiety in some immigrant communities, but he doesn’t feel it, especially as a new citizen.

“More people I think are trying to become citizens because they’re afraid of being deported or something. But a lot of people, they point to the worst thing right away,” said Saric, a salesman in the fruit and vegetable industry. “At the end of the day, we all gotta wake up and go to work every day, do what we’re doing, till something happens, then you figure it out.”

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn

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