HAMMOND | On the most American of holidays, 47 people from 24 countries took the oath of allegiance to become U.S. citizens during the Fourth of July festivities at Wolf Lake Memorial Park pavilion.
They came from nearly every continent and many different cultures. What united them was a desire to declare themselves among the more than 300 million U.S. citizens now inhabiting the world.
Huseyin Usak, 50, came to the U.S. in 1993 from a small town near Istanbul, Turkey.
“I came for a better life, freedom,” Usak said as he waited with his wife, Barbara, to register with officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chicago District.
The Crown Point residents met the year after Usak arrived in Northwest Indiana. They adopted four Turkish children and plan to buy a home in that country for their retirement.
Being a U.S. citizen now means the couple can travel freely between the U.S. and Turkey, something Huseyin Usak said he couldn’t do before.
“When my father was dying in Turkey in 1996, I had to go to the immigration office. They gave me a one-month visa to visit my father,” he said. “A lot of my friends can’t get a green card.”
Some of the new U.S. citizens came to America as teenagers with their families.
Michael I. Sampson-Akpuru, now 27, arrived in Munster in 2000 as a 14-year old from Nigeria.
“I had no choice,” he said with a big smile on his face.
A 2010 graduate of Indiana University Bloomington, Sampson-Akpuru has put his degree in business economics to use as an entrepreneur. He owns Green Airport Shuttle Service in Aurora, Ill.
He, too, said being able to travel freely is a major perk of being a new U.S. citizen.
Justyna Ksiazek was 13 years old when her family emigrated from Tarnow, Poland, in 2003. Today, the 22-year old lives in Cedar Lake, works at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago as a patient care technician and is enrolled in a nursing program at Ivy Tech.
“(Being a U.S. citizen) is important because it gives you a lot of opportunity, education and for my future family,” she said.
For the past 30 years, Lynn Bouziotis has been part of the American way of life. A native of Essex, England, she met her husband, Harry, on a blind date.
“I came (to the U.S.) for adventure,” she said. “I feel so American already, but I feel pride, joy, immense happiness and am looking forward to the future (as a new citizen).”
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, welcomed the new citizens and called immigration a cornerstone of the American experience.
“You have played by the rules,” Visclosky said, adding he hoped the new American citizens would use their talents and energy “to make this country better than they found it.”
Magistrate Judge Andrew Rodovich of the U.S. District Court presided over his 25th naturalization ceremony in Hammond.
“This is a celebration of freedom and rule of law,” Rodovich said, adding that he hoped all would register to vote.