Thousands came to the fourth annual Constitution Fair at Gilbert’s Mesquite High School on Saturday to play games, see fireworks and learn about the history of the Constitution. Fifty-two Phoenix-area residents came to be naturalized as United States citizens.
"It is so special that as we celebrate the 218th birthday of our country, we also welcome you all as citizens to our country," retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor told the crowd during the naturalization proceedings.
O’Connor, an Arizona native who referred to herself as an "out-of-work cowgirl," was the special presiding judge of the ceremony.
It was a frenzy of patriotism and a sea of red and blue glow sticks as the crowd of thousands cheered for the newest American citizens as they read aloud the 140-word oath of citizenship.
"Taking the oath is a defining moment in your life," President Bush said in a recorded video message at the ceremony. "Today the United States is not only your home, it is your country."
The new citizens were from 17 nations, including Bosnia, China, Nigeria, Mexico and Africa. They were students, nurses, marketing directors, teachers and engineers.
Arman Stephen Nazarian of Surprise came to the U.S. from Iraq nine years ago to get married. He took the oath Saturday and said he will be proud to now say he is from the same country as his children.
"It means a lot; it means living in a free country and that I can vote," Nazarian said. "It means everything."
It was also meaningful for Jose Jovel, a Phoenix resident. His parents sent him to the United States at the age of 15 to escape civil war in his native El Salvador. He has lived here for 29 years without being able to call himself American.
"I love the United States," Jovel said. "There are so many great opportunities."
He also said he is looking forward to being able to vote.
Deborah and Don Bain of Gilbert moved here nine years ago for their jobs. The Bains renounced their Canadian citizenship to gain American citizenship. "I finally feel like I belong," Don Bain said.