By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – After 39 people from 13 countries became U.S. citizens Aug. 22 at Henry Ford Centennial Library, they shared heartfelt stories of the desire for freedom, safety and a better life.
When Karen Del Rosario, 26, of Dearborn Heights became a naturalized U.S. citizen, she gave her heart to the country that kept it strong since she was 6 years old. Del Rosario’s mother, a nurse, brought her to the United States from the Philippines for heart surgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit because she felt it was the best chance for her daughter’s survival.
“I am very grateful that I did come here, because if I did not come here I probably would not have been alive,” Del Rosario said. “I am very grateful for this country.”
A graduate of University of Michigan-Dearborn, she works for Bank of America, and enjoys running and working out in her free time.
“We all have our own stories,” she said, “and coming here was a good choice.”
New U.S. citizens Mohammad Sharif-ul Hasan and his wife, Dr. Shanta Khandaker, came to the United States nine years ago from Bangladesh. Hasan earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and now works for Ford Motor Co. Khandaker, a doctor in internal medicine, is completing her licensing requirements to practice in the United States. The couple’s 7-year-old daughter, Sreya, was born here.
Khandaker acknowledged that there are fewer restrictions on women in the United States.
She said in the United States her daughter, who likes to speak her mind and read, may grow up to be president if she wants.
“It is a land of opportunity,” Khandaker said. “There is a lot of opportunity for people here.”
Hasan said he is glad that he is now a citizen.
“We are finally part of this country,” he said. “We can vote, we can raise our voice if we want to. I want to add my voice so that this country can be a much better place for my kid.”
New U.S. citizens Francis Nathan and Victoria Polus of Macomb County, Iraqi Christians who immigrated five years ago, said they also came here for a better future for their family, one free from uncertainty.
Polus said becoming a U.S. citizen is the fulfillment of a dream for her.
“My heart is very happy now,” she said. “We want to live safe. That is why we came here: to be free, to be safe.”
Nathan said he shared his wife’s dream.
“This freedom, which I was dreaming a long, long time, I bless the God that it happens today, that I am naturalized a U.S. citizen,” he said. “I wish I were here 30 or 40 years ago. Here is the place to live, especially if you have children. The future is before you.”
Also planning for her future is naturalized U.S. citizen Marwa Mazen Asmar, 19, of Sterling Heights, an Iraqi Christian who came to the United States at age 12 and learned English in middle school. She said she plans to become a translator.
She said having freedom of speech is the best part about living in the United States.
“Back home in Iraq they are a republic, not a democracy, so we can’t say whatever we want,” Asmar said. “And they don’t love Christians; there are more Muslims.”
Her brother Marwan, who became a citizen almost a year ago, said he likes the freedom here as well, and was very proud of his sister.
Librarian Isabella Rowan is pleased the library could host this event, and hopes it becomes an annual tradition so that others become aware of the rich blend of cultures of the people who come to the United States seeking a new life.
“That’s what this country is all about, all of the different cultures and countries coming together to be one tapestry of America,” Rowan said. “This is it personified. This is the real deal. That is why I wanted to do this for the library in the first place, to have everyone witness these people and their stories and coming together in one place.”
She said the journey to become a citizen is a long, rigorous one, with testing and a five-year wait.
“I am just really happy that we could do this for them and welcome them,” Rowan said. “I hope that from now on, it will be a regular thing that we do every year.”
Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said it was appropriate that a library hosted the naturalization ceremony as the United States was one of the first countries in the world to offer public libraries.
“Up until that happened, almost all books were privately owned and belonged to collections of people with lots of money,” he said. “They were not accessible to the average person.
“It was Benjamin Franklin, who was one of our great, insightful leaders, who, in the beginning of our country, said that libraries were the foundation of democracy because democracy required an educated voter.”
Rowan said a library is the perfect place for the new citizens to begin their lives in the United States, and it is a guardian of free access to information.
“We are a foundation stone of democracy,” Rowan said. “We provide equal opportunity and freedom of access to information. If you need information about anything, we will help you find it. Our motto is ‘Start here, go anywhere.’”
She said libraries — there are 17,000 of them in the United States — let people find information to start a business, go to college or become a lawmaker. She encouraged the new citizens to get a library card in their hometown as soon as possible.
“Libraries operate on the belief that strong, democratic societies are created by informed citizens,” she said. “To be an informed citizen, visit your local library regularly. We are here to help you be the best citizens you can be.”