Five hundred twenty-five people became new U.S. citizens Wednesday at a ceremony at Seattle Center.

Share story

Shoulder to shoulder they stood, 525 new U.S. citizens brimming with smiles, a few with tears, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.

On this most patriotic of days, refugees and immigrants from 82 countries took the Oath of Allegiance at Seattle Center. Women in saris and abayas waved mini American flags. Men in turbans and robes smiled at their children in the stands.

Calling Seattle’s 98118 ZIP code (Columbia City area) “the most diverse in the United States,” Sen. Maria Cantwell urged the new citizens to continue the legacy of successful local immigrants such as Wing Luke, who came to the U.S. from China as a 6-year-old and grew up to become a Seattle city councilman. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is named for him.

The brand-new citizens sworn in at Fisher Pavilion were among the 4,200 nationwide who took the oath this Fourth of July.

In Seattle, the largest groups were from the Philippines (58), India (44) and Mexico (40).

Among them was Nadia Kroumova, a civil engineer from Bulgaria who became an American after her name was drawn in a Green Card Lottery administered by the U.S. Department of State.

“I like to tell me people that ‘I won the lottery,’ only this is worth a lot more than winning money,” she said.

One row away, Anwar Ahmed, 32, from Ethiopia, sat in silence, realizing that his journey from a poor, war-torn country to America is now officially complete — after 13 years of waiting. High on his list now? Registering “to vote, like an American,” he said, smiling.

Musu Jammeh, 27, from Gambia in West Africa, pronounced it a great day. Life is just so good here, she said.

Jammeh laughs when she sees Seattle drivers “complaining about traffic while they are in nice cars with the AC on or people complaining about waiting so long for a cab.”

“Back home, we don’t have electricity 24 hours. Only rich people have hot water. We don’t always have water when we turn the tap on,” she said.

So, even her bad days in America are pretty good in comparison, she said.

Jammeh takes classes in the morning at North Seattle Community College and works full time in the evening as a caretaker for the elderly. She hopes to become a nurse.

“That’s what America taught me. That if you work hard, you get opportunities, many opportunities,” said Jammeh, who has been in the United States for five years.

After waiting a decade, former Yugoslavian Vladimir Aleksov, 57, along with his wife and daughter, planned to spend the rest of the momentous day at their waterfront home in Kirkland, celebrating like most Americans would on Independence Day.

“We are going to have a nice barbecue with some steaks and wait for the fireworks at 10 o’clock,” said Aleksov, a Boeing aerospace engineer who came here on a work visa.

“It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle.