Raleigh, N.C. — Independence Day held special meaning for 30 people who took the oath to become American citizens during a naturalization ceremony Thursday on the State Capitol grounds.
The ceremony was the culmination of a long journey for the newly minted citizens, who came from 23 countries to call the United States their new home.
“I came here and I love it. I got two kids,” said Marco Garcia, who moved to the U.S. seven years ago after meeting his wife in his native Ecuador.
Some struggled more than others to get here.
Marc Monace escaped persecution in Haiti after the 1994 coup that removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office. Monace’s father was in politics.
“I think 90 percent of his friends were either killed or tortured, and as a result, we were granted refuge to the U.S.,” Monace said.
Members of Uniting NC, a nonprofit that works to promote positive relations between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans, attended the ceremony to welcome the new citizens.
“Welcoming new immigrants is really what America is about,” said Dan Rearick of Uniting NC. “I think it’s a core American value, and I thing that’s a part of what July Fourth is all about.”
Manoj Bhatia, who moved to the U.S. from India, was assigned seat No. 13 during the ceremony.
“Lucky 13 – It’s been a good number for me,” he said. "Even though I was born somewhere else, I'm more part of America right now."
Taking the oath on the Fourth of July "couldn't have come on a better day," he said.
It's a day his wife, Shelley Bhatia, had been waiting for.
“Well, for one, we can travel together without him going through the other line,” she said.
Manoj Bhatia graduated in 2003 from North Carolina State University and now works as a project manager at Red Hat. He and wife met as undergraduates, and they now have two children.
"He's as much an American as any other guy," Shelley Bhatia said. "He's a big sports fanatic. NC State is his life. Football, basketball, any sport you can imagine – he loves it."
Shelley is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Fayetteville. For her father, Rajan Fhamdasani, this ceremony brings back memories.
“I remember the day I became a citizen - very, very emotional,” he said. “Once you’re naturalized, this is the end of your journey.”