Roxana Geacar expected to be alone Friday morning when she raised her right hand and swore an oath to the United States of America. She had no family or friends to snap photos or cheer her on during the ceremony. Instead, coworkers streamed into Central Library's meeting room to support her as she became a United States citizen.
“They knew I am alone here in America,” Geacar began, tears welling in her eyes. She raised one trembling hand. “I’m still shaking.”
Geacar, who immigrated from Romania nearly a decade ago, was one of 13 immigrants from 12 countries to attend Friday’s ceremony. She came to study at PCC, dismayed at first when she saw Portland lacked the sunny beaches and skyscrapers of the television version of the U.S.A.
She laughs when she thinks about it. “I’ve been here so long I feel I belong here. It’s part of who I am. Now I love Portland, more than sunny beaches.”
Kiet Nguyen came eight years ago from Ho Chi Minh City. He smiled wide and posed for photos with friends and strangers alike. “I came looking for freedom,” he said. “There are so many opportunities here.”
Library Director Vailey Oehlke and County Chair Deborah Kafoury welcomed their newest compatriots, calling on them to take advantage of those freedoms and opportunities.
“Follow your passions. Pursue your dreams. Build a United States that makes us proud,” Chair Kafoury said. “Vote. Protest. Study. Wake up each morning and ask yourself, ‘How can I be of service today?’”
Chair Kafoury’s great grandfather, Nader Kafoury, left Syria when he was a teen and came to the United States. He went on to own a business and was elected mayor of a little Idaho town.
“The question in our family was never whether or not to be involved in your community – but how, and when,” Kafoury said Friday during the ceremony. “And that’s our duty as Americans, to be of service to all people. To wake up each day and ask, how can I make life better for the people I love, and the people I don’t even know.”
The message rang true for Kevin Schiller, of Toronto, who cried when he explained why he had wanted to become a U.S. citizen.
“Here you have a country that says, ‘Give me your poor,’” he said. “You look at the faces of Americans, and it doesn’t matter what you look like or what your heritage is. We’ve got problems, yes. But let’s be strong and use the tools we have to improve it.”