CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ricardo Villegas pledged allegiance to America at a citizenship ceremony held yesterday at the federal courthouse. Villegas, who is from Mexico, was one of 73 Hawaii residents to take part in the ceremony.
Foreigners no more: 73 become U.S. citizens
When Canadian-born Barbara McAllaster was 12, she told her father she was going to move to Hawaii one day. He simply patted her head politely and smiled.
Thirty-one years later, McAllaster is raising a family in Kailua, and yesterday she raised her right hand, pledged allegiance to America and became a citizen of the country where she has always felt at home.
McAllaster, a nurse who grew up in Calgary, Alberta, came to Hawaii 19 years ago on a one-year contract to help ease a nursing shortage.
"I came here for the weather and fun," she said. "My dad sent me on an airplane that day and knew I was never coming back."
McAllaster was one of the 73 Hawaii residents from 22 countries sworn in yesterday in the federal courthouse as the nation celebrates Constitution Week.
McAllaster said she wanted to get her citizenship this year to vote in the 2008 election.
"In the last election, it really bothered me that I couldn't vote," McAllaster said. "I have American children, I pay huge taxes and I couldn't vote."
Keynote speaker Mayor Mufi Hannemann told the new citizens to exercise their rights as Americans by voting, embracing laws and rules, and sharing their talents and culture with everyone.
"This is probably the happiest occasion of anyone's life," Hannemann said. "You are enhancing the image that Hawaii has: that we are a melting pot. We are proud of our ethnic origin, but what brings us together in this special land of aloha is that we are a part of the United States of America."
Judge Lloyd King, who swore in the citizens, said that in all his 30 years on the bench, this was his first naturalization ceremony.
"I would also like to congratulate the United States of America for having you," King said. "The benefits which you bring will help the U.S. become a more perfect place."
Maria Lorenzotti came to America in search of a better living situation than in her home country of Ecuador. She became an American citizen just in time to travel to Switzerland for her brother's wedding next month.
"I want to travel," said Lorenzotti, 30, of Salt Lake. "It's difficult to travel when you have a passport from Ecuador. As an American you can go anywhere you want. If I didn't become a citizen, I couldn't have gone to my brother's wedding."
Raili Robinson held a small American flag as she accepted her naturalization certificate. A native of Finland, Robinson met her American husband while vacationing in Cyprus in the Mediterranean. She had many years before yesterday to become an American citizen after getting married in 1992.
"I really want to be American," Robinson said. "Since 9/11, I feel like I belong to this country."