- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flag Day was probably just another Tuesday for most Americans, but for Mia Alfonso it was once-in-a-lifetime special: the day she became a U.S. citizen.

“This is the land of opportunity. The opportunities are unlimited,” Ms. Alfonso said. “I’ve come for a better future.”

Ms. Alfonso was one of 20 people who became citizens Tuesday at a naturalization ceremony held at the National Museum of American History.

Arriving in the United States in 2005 from the Philippines, Ms. Alfonso had high hopes and was not disappointed. She described the Philippines as an area with limited chances for economic growth, where she knew she would struggle to go to school and find a job.

“Opportunities are really limited there due to the economy. It’s a Third World country. But here, I have a good job and a great life,” Ms. Alfonso said.

The process to become a citizen was a long one for Ms. Alfonso, who said her grandfather originally petitioned for her to move to America and become a citizen 18 years ago.

“It’s been a long process, but I am here because of him,” Ms. Alfonso said.

Mani Billipuram, who came to America from India in 1997, came because of a job visa, but wound up staying because he began to “love it here.”

“It truly is of the people, by the people, for the people,” Mr. Billipuram said.

He said that although India claims to be those things, it often fails at its attempts and does not provide enough economic opportunities for its people.

“It does not totally live up to what it says,” Mr. Billipuram said. “America does.”

The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Gerda Weissmann Klein, a renowned author as well as a Holocaust victim from Poland. Ms. Klein described her time in the camps and said that coming to America in 1945 restored her humanity.

“I love [America] with the love that only one who has been homeless and hungry, as I have been, can,” Ms. Klein said.

She added that she prays every night for people to appreciate their freedom in the United States, something that many Americans take for granted.

Among the new citizens was Calvin Magana, a member of the U.S. Army who has served as a team leader in Iraq. Mr. Magana, who came to the United States from El Salvador in 1996, said his parents originally left El Salvador because of the civil war there. Asked why he decided to become a citizen today, he answered with one simple sentence that can now be said by 20 new citizens:

“Because it’s my home.”

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