Navy personnel become citizens at Yokosuka ceremony
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — So maybe Ann Rhie Kubera can’t be president of the United States, but she can be a commanding officer in the U.S. Navy.
“Where else could a short, female Asian do that but in the United States?” Kubera asked the hopefuls at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony Friday. “And my son can be the president. And now, so can your sons and daughters.”
President Bush himself — albeit via a recorded message — affirmed that the 64 active-duty personnel, representing 22 countries and about 20 Pacific U.S. Navy commands, are “as fully American as the direct descendants of the Founding Fathers.”
They became U.S. citizens Friday, amid cheers from well-wishers at Yokosuka Naval Base’s Chapel of Hope. The annual ceremony included military from Yokosuka, Atsugi and Iwakuni.
“This is incredible,” said Seaman Isaac Borrego, from the USS Kitty Hawk. “In Venezuela, where I’m from, the economy is struggling and it’s difficult to find a job. There are plenty of benefits to being an American.”
Right now, immigrants make up 5 percent of enlisted active-duty Armed Forces and 20 percent of the Medal of Honor awardees, Kubera said. Green card holders can enlist for one term to eight years depending on the branch of service, and they can qualify for expedited citizenship.
“This is a most important day that you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” said Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. Jamie Kelly in a recorded greeting. “There is no ceremony more honorable or heartfelt in the United States than this one.”
A climate of fear brought on by terrorist attacks have some Americans saying “we should no longer be a nation of immigrants,” but Kelly is “not one of those guys,” he said.
Some of new citizens were from Cuba, Laos and Vietnam, which a few decades ago were considered “sworn enemies of the United States,” Kubera said.
“Almost everyone here comes from somewhere else,” Kubera said. “Whether your relatives were from Iran escaping persecution or came from Ireland during the potato famine.
“My own parents came from Korea, because they didn’t want to raise their three daughters in the specter of war.”
It was a beautiful ceremony, said 17-year-old Sylvia Hernandez, who was there to cheer on her stepdad, Gunnery Sgt. Jose Luiz Prado.
“My dad loves being a Marine and I think this will give him even more pride in his job, as well as more opportunities,” Hernandez said.
“He has been waiting for this for a long time,” said Prado’s wife, Esmeralda, who also has naturalization aspirations. “Hopefully, it will be me up there next time.”