Thirty years ago, Makiko Knotts of Japan met her future husband. She moved to the United States, married and on Friday, she officially became a United States citizen during a naturalization ceremony held at George Washington Carver National Monument.
“First, I applied four years ago, then I stopped then,” Knotts said. “Then seven months ago, I applied again. And I am here today.”
She was just one of 37 candidates from 27 different countries — Mexico, New Zealand, Ethiopia and Cameroon, to name a few — who went through the final phase to become a U.S. citizen.
Asked why she opted to become a citizen, Knotts said, “well, I have grandchildren and I know I am going to be staying here forever. I like this country, so I decided to be citizen.”
In a crowd full of family and friends, the candidates sat at the front of the monument’s multipurpose room, anxiously waiting for the 45-minute ceremony to proceed.
Starting off the event, was welcoming remarks from the monument’s superintendent, Jim Heaney.
“Today we honor your struggle, your commitment, your ambition and your dreams to become American citizens,” Heaney said. “I congratulate you all on a special day. I wish you all continued success in you new lives as American citizens. Welcome.”
Arthur B. Federman, U.S. District Court Judge, Western District of Missouri, presided over the naturalization ceremony.
“It is indeed a privilege and a pleasure to be here to see each and every one of you – especially each and every one of the new citizens,” Federman said in his opening remarks. “I, myself, am a child of naturalized citizens. My parents survived the Holocaust in Europe, came to this country in 1946 and immediately began the task of learning what they needed to learn to become citizens of this country. As I was growing up, they often told me stories of the reading that they had done, the classes they had gone to learn English, which they didn’t know when they arrived in this country, to learn about the culture and the history, and government, so that they could become citizens…”
Federman told the candidates of one thing he learned from his parents was to never stop learning about your adopted country.
“The day that you become citizens is really only the first day of the rest of your life as United States citizens,” he said. “This country offers great opportunity. It is also a country in which has so much to offer us. I would encourage each of you to see this as a milestone. You have gone through the process of being citizens and for each of you, the future holds so much. I congratulate each of you.”
Page 2 of 3 - Federman gave some pointers to the new citizens.
“Becoming citizens, at least in my view, typically opens up a number of rights to you,” he said. “It makes you freer than you were when you walked into this building today, but also I think that it creates a sense of responsibility.”
The judge encouraged the new citizens to vote, noting there was a table outside where the new citizens could register — especially with the Nov. 6 election almost here.
“Hopefully each of you will get registered today,” Federman added. “Certainly the election for president and congress and the other matters are important, but there are other elections that are also important whether it is for city council, school board, those sorts of things, they have a real impact on your lives. As voters I would ask you to be informed voters.”
The judge encouraged them to be law abiding and also encouraged them to participate in community.
“To participate actively in the affairs of your community or religious or charitable organization, that is close to your heart and is important to you,” Federman said.
His final pointer to the new citizens was to be willing to work and work hard.
“Always strive to improve yourself, to learn more about this great nation that offers so much to us, its history, its language,” he said. “As my parents did – and still do – I would ask each of you to teach your children what you learn in life. If not your children, teach other children what you learn. One of the things that I have learned in the family that I grew up in was that you shouldn’t abandon your roots, you shouldn’t abandon the culture and the life that you came from completely. You should take that knowledge, take those roots and transmit those to others. This is one of the diverse countries, the most diverse country in the world. And the reason that it works is because each of us has much to learn from the others. I hope to learn from you and others like you who have come to our shores from around the world.”
Each of them said the oath of allegiance, which states in part “I do hereby declare, upon oath … that I will support and defend the constitution and the laws of the United States of America…And that I take this obligation freely, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.”
With a smile on her face, Knotts received her certificate stating that she was a United States citizen.
“I love this country,” she said after the ceremony.
Page 3 of 3 - Before she left the grounds, Knotts held an American flag and had her picture taken near a statue of George Washington Carver.