ICYMI: The 2023 Naturalization Ceremony at Seattle Center Welcomed Over 500 New U.S. Citizens
By Gurjot Kang
Edited by Marian Mohamed
Candidates stand for the oath of citizenship during the 38th annual Naturalization Ceremony at Seattle Center on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
Fourth of July holds a different meaning for many Americans across the country. As we continue to critically think about what it means to be American during such national holidays, we also celebrate the diversity and contributions of immigrants from around the world who make our country what it is today. The struggle to become a U.S citizen is long, tiring, and complex.
My own parents know this as they went through the process themselves in the early 2000s—persisting through language barriers. The road to citizenship is full of plenty of hurdles and obstacles for those applying, but for anyone who is able to make it to the other side—receiving the certificate is a momentous occasion that raises cause for celebration. A milestone event that represents triumph over hardship for thousands of new Americans every year.
In case you missed it, this past Independence Day, the Seattle Center hosted the 38th annual Naturalization Ceremony with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington to welcome over 500 new U.S. citizens at Fisher Pavilion. With hundreds of family members and friends there to support their loved ones, the 2023 Naturalization Ceremony was a very special and meaningful Fourth of July celebration for those in attendance. For the 501 individuals seated, this would be their first Independence Day as American citizens.
As the crowd gathered, everyone anxiously awaited the moment The Honorable David G. Estudillo, Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of Washington, would swear in the candidates as new U.S. citizens.
The Honorable David G. Estudillo prepares to address the crowd on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Kaitlyn Nyangate)
With the candidates representing 79 different countries from around the world, emotions were high and heavy as they stood to take their oaths and waved tiny American flags upon hearing the name of the country they immigrated from. The ceremony also took the time to recognize one of the oldest candidates in attendance receiving their U.S. citizenship at the age of 77.
Citizenship candidates stood and waved flags during the ceremony on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
“One of the traditions of this ceremony is to recognize the oldest candidate and to note that it is never too late to become a citizen,” said Leanne Leigh, Acting USCIS District Director for the Pacific Northwest.
Candidates stand to take their oaths on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Kaitlyn Nyangate)
As the sun blazed on that day, the crowds gathered eagerly to celebrate their loved ones becoming American citizens—a tiring journey decades in the making for some.
The crowd awaits for the ceremony to start on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
The ceremony began with the posting of the colors by the Washington State Guard and the singing of the National Anthem by Maria Plancich Kesovija, with accompaniment from Seattle’s premier Brass Quintet, High Class Brass.
Members of High Class Brass playing at the Naturalization Ceremony on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
Afterwards, a beautiful welcome was performed for the attendees by Native storyteller Gene Tagaban and musicians Swil Kanim and Peter Ali. Following this serene moment, gospel singer Josephine Howell gave the audience a moving rendition of ‘America the Beautiful’ on stage.
Native storyteller Gene Tagaban on stage at the ceremony on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Kaitlyn Nyangate)
Artist Josephine Howell performs on stage at the Naturalization Ceremony on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Kaitlyn Nyangate)
This year’s Naturalization Ceremony included several speeches and remarks delivered by various public officials, including Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, Governor Jay Inslee, Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal addresses hundreds of new citizens at the ceremony. (Photo/Kaitlyn Nyangate)
“23 years ago, I sat where you are—at a naturalization ceremony,” shared Rep. Jayapal to the audience. “Born in India, I came to the United States by myself at the age of 16…and like many of you, I navigated a complex immigration system for 17 years before I finally became a United States citizen.”
For Tina Gadekar, becoming a U.S. citizen during this year’s ceremony marked an important milestone in her life—one that she was glad to celebrate with her husband and son. Gadekar, who is from India, reflected on how this change will open up many doors that were closed prior for her.
Gadekar pictured holding up her Certificate of Naturalization after the ceremony on July 4, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
“Today is the moment of my life. It's the Fourth of July. It’s American Independence Day and my naturalization,” said Gadekar. “I live with my husband and my kid who are already citizens, so to have a U.S. passport with them is really exciting.”
For EJ from Australia, who also became a citizen at this year’s ceremony, this Fourth of July brings up several different emotions. EJ was among one of seven Australian citizenship candidates at the ceremony.
“The immigration process in general is very convoluted, expensive. It is skewed towards people who speak English as a first language who are wealthy enough to do the process,” said EJ. “So I think the immigration process is something that could use some work. However, I'm grateful to have been a part of it. And I'm grateful that now my son and I can't ever be separated, which was the impetus of why I decided to do this because he's an American born baby. And even though he has Australian citizenship already, I didn't want us to not be permitted to stay together because of a piece of paper.”
For EJ and the other 500 new U.S. citizens that day, this year’s ceremony marked the end of a long and tiring venture, with a huge weight now lifted off their shoulders.
EJ smiles with her son inside the Seattle Center Armory after the Naturalization Ceremony. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
“The relief you feel is really worth a celebration,” said EJ, with a grin. “I’m gonna celebrate with my son.”