There was no need to ask Bassem Sedhom how he felt Saturday when he raised his right hand and was formally pronounced a citizen of the United States of America.
The smile on his face and the American flag he was waving said it all.
“This is now my beloved country,” Sedhom, 29, said after the ceremony. “I am very happy and proud.”
Sedhom, who came to Tacoma from Cairo in 2008, was among 72 immigrants from around the world who became citizens Saturday in the Mount Tahoma High School auditorium.
The Citizenship Day Naturalization Ceremony, held annually at the South Tacoma school since 2011, was one of hundreds of similar ceremonies held nationwide this week in remembrance of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
In 1952, President Harry Truman signed a bill formalizing the celebration of Citizenship Day. In 2004, Congress established Sept. 17 as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.
This year, the new citizens who took the oath of allegiance in Tacoma included people from 23 countries, ranging alphabetically from American Samoa to Vietnam.
Sedhom, who is a Christian, said he came to America to escape religious persecution. In Egypt, he said, members of the Muslim Brotherhood burn Coptic Christian Churches, kidnap children, set fire to homes and destroy Christian businesses.
“I came here because I like the freedom,” Sedhom said. “The freedom of speech. The freedom to go to church.”
Four of the 72 new citizens are active-duty U.S. soldiers, and they were given special attention and a round of applause for their service.
One of them, Ivan Nunezorozco, 25, of the Mexican state of Michoacan, said he’s been stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the past year. He’s a private first class, trained as a helicopter mechanic.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling,” Nunezorozco said after the ceremony. “It’s like being a new person. I came here to have a voice in the government, to have the liberty to choose who I vote for.”
“You have many responsibilities, too,” Nunezorozco added. “You can’t just be a citizen and not care how everything goes in the country.”
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, who was instrumental in bringing the naturalization ceremony to Pierce County in 2011, presided over the day’s affairs, as she does each year.
Patsy Suhr O’Connell, a local artist and the founder of the Asia-Pacific Culture Center, was the keynote speaker. U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck also made brief remarks.
All three of the speakers at times struggled to maintain their composure as they spoke emotionally about their own family histories and migrations to America.
Suhr O’Connell recounted her years as a war refugee in China and Korea before arriving here in 1962. She assured the new citizens that they don’t have to give up their own cultures.
“You don’t lose your culture becoming American,” she said. “You are adding your background to this culture.”
Heck said after the ceremony that he considered it an honor to be asked to speak.
“It’s the story of us,” he said. “We are a nation of immigrants. This is the utmost affirmation of the American ideal.”
“My biggest concern,” Heck added, “was that I get through it without breaking down.”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693