HAMMOND | On a crisp summer day with the sun glistening off Wolf Lake behind them, 50 new citizens were welcomed into the United States during a Fourth of July naturalization ceremony.
"Proud," was the word 19-year-old Ricardo Valdovinos of Portage used to describe his feelings about his mother, Maria Teresa, 45, becoming a U.S. citizen.
Originally from Mexico, Teresa has been in the U.S. since 1987 and decided to become a citizen because all of her children and her husband are American and, "I love this country."
According to Bruce Allen, an Immigration Services officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's office in Chicago, more than 10,000 people were naturalized in ceremonies across the country Friday.
Having the ceremony on the Fourth of July was fitting as immigration is mentioned in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, noted Magistrate Judge Andrew Rodovich, who has been performing the ceremonies locally for more than 30 years. Friday's ceremony was organized by the League of Women Voters of the Calumet Area, in conjunction with the Hammond Port Authority. League representatives were on hand to assist people wanting to register to vote.
Voting and otherwise actively participating in the country and community is part of what citizenship is about, according to Kerry C. Connor, who spoke Friday as a representative of the Indiana State Bar Association. Cal Bellamy, with the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission, also stressed the importance of volunteerism in his remarks.
The new citizens came from 28 countries, from B to Z, noted Allen and fellow Immigration Services officer Frank Edson McLaren.
Ivy Chirwa, a Zambia native now living in South Bend, said "greener pasture and wanting the American Dream" were among the reasons she decided to becoming a citizen. She also has a husband and sons who are Americans.
One Highland couple became citizens together and now can begin getting their 17-year-old daughter citizenship. Jeff Caldeira, 47, originally from Brazil, and his wife, Titiana Sangines, 43, originally from Bolivia, said they felt "proud and happy" following Friday's ceremony.
Sangines said the ceremony will make the couple feel like they belong.
"Now we can feel at home, finally," said Sangines, adding, "it's a beautiful country, too."
On a lighter note, as the sun began to set on a memorable Fourth of July, a smiling Caldeira added, "We'll buy fireworks now. We're Americans."