Flags waved. Tears moistened eyes and cheeks. Hugs and shouts of joy abounded.
For one extended Afghan family that has settled in the Puyallup Valley, Monday marked a fresh start as members became citizens in a ceremony at the Seattle office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
These 22 new Americans – 10 adults and 12 children – are all relatives of Yunus and Nahid Peshtaz, who are naturalized citizens from the capital city of Kabul.
“It means the world to me,” Yunus Peshtaz said. “I worked so hard on this project.”
Altogether, he helped 37 family members come to the United States from points of refuge across the far corners of the globe, where they had fled in terror from Taliban extremists.
Several had already completed the citizenship process before Monday, while others are still making progress toward that goal.
Nahid Peshtaz said she’d been waiting many years for the family to be reunited in America and become citizens.
“It’s the happiest moment in the world,” she said.
Her brother Asan Aslami said he’s grateful to his sister and her husband for the assistance they offered so that his family could immigrate.
Mirwise Aslami, another brother of Nahid’s, is rejoicing that as a new American, he’ll be able to apply to have his fiancée immigrate and join him here. He had to leave her behind when he left Afghanistan.
Children younger than 18 became citizens through their parents.
“I’m excited,” said 10-year-old Beshta Aslami, Asan’s daughter. “I’m happy about my father and my mom being citizens, too. I’m just proud.”
Aghil Masoun, 19, whose mom is Yunus’ sister, graduated this year from Puyallup High School and wants to enter Pierce College to study business in the fall.
He’s looking forward to citizenship.
“You have more freedom,” he said. “You can do more things.”
The family’s connection to Puyallup was forged in 1974 when Yunus Peshtaz came to Puyallup High School as a foreign exchange student. Five years later, he and his wife and young son left Afghanistan just before their country was invaded by the Soviet Union. They settled in Puyallup, raised three children and became U.S. citizens in 1984.
The News Tribune began documenting the family saga after Sept. 11, 2001, when the Peshtaz family helped organize a prayer vigil for victims of the terrorist attacks.
When they left Afghanistan, family members ran to any country where they could find refuge. Many wound up living in Pakistan, others in Germany, Russia or the Netherlands.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, communications with family in Pakistan were cut off, and Yunus and Nahid spent many sleepless nights trying to make sure they were OK.
But always, Yunus’ dream was to bring the family together here and to help them become American citizens. For many years, he submitted applications and tried to cut through red tape, without success.
Ruth Clapp, a staff member in the office of U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, read about Yunus’ struggles in The News Tribune and offered to help.
She was there Monday to see the fruits of her efforts, which included working with embassies in four foreign countries from which the family members had emigrated.
Clapp gives all the credit to Yunus. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said.
Smith, who also attended the ceremony, said the story is “a testimony first and foremost to the perseverance of this family.”
The Tacoma Democrat also said it’s “a great American story,” noting that our country is largely made up of immigrants from around the globe.
“We benefit as a country when people want to come here and build a better life,” he said. “It’s a testimony to how strong and great this country is.”
Asan Aslami’s family suffered a setback recently. While the soon-to-be citizens were at a Fourth of July celebration, their Fife apartment caught fire, and they lost what few possessions they had.
The Red Cross helped them get temporary lodging, but they are hoping to find another apartment and start their lives over. Again.
Their shock over the fire hasn’t quite faded, but on Monday, there was only joy.
Said Asan: “I’m happy after five years that I’m an American.”email@example.com