Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Not just for adults: 80 kids take citizenship oath



Luis Litez, a 10-year-old originally from Mexico, takes the oath of citizenship at a special kids' naturalization ceremony in downtown Los Angeles.
Luis Litez, a 10-year-old originally from Mexico, takes the oath of citizenship at a special kids' naturalization ceremony in downtown Los Angeles.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Luis Litez, a 10-year-old originally from Mexico, takes the oath of citizenship at a special kids' naturalization ceremony in downtown Los Angeles.
Brothers Tim and PJ Parawan pose with their parents and their new citizenship certificates.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Luis Litez, a 10-year-old originally from Mexico, takes the oath of citizenship at a special kids' naturalization ceremony in downtown Los Angeles.
Eighty children from countries ranging from Iran to El Salvador took citizenship oaths at LA's Central Library.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Luis Litez, a 10-year-old originally from Mexico, takes the oath of citizenship at a special kids' naturalization ceremony in downtown Los Angeles.
Families could forego a group ceremony, but those attending the event at the Mark Taper Forum at the library wanted a communal experience.
Josie Huang/KPCC


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Luis Litez, a 10-year-old from Mexico, lifted his right hand, as he murmured the oath of allegiance to the United States:

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty...."

The oath may have felt like a string of big words, but Litez said afterward it changed him.

"I was not American but I am now," said Litez, who lives in LA. "I'm part of California now."

Eighty children from greater Los Angeles took part in a special "Constitution Week" ceremony at Central Library downtown. They ranged in age from 6 to 17, and come from countries such as Iran, Cambodia, China, Armenia and El Salvador.

Children are eligible for naturalization if their foreign-born parents become citizens, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Orphans can also attain citizenship if they're adopted by Americans.

On average, about 150 children go through the naturalization process each month by way of USCIS's L.A. County field office, said its director Nancy J. Alby.

They and their families can choose to forgo a group ceremony and get a certificate through the field office, she said.

"But we try to do special events for the families because it means a lot for the parents," said Alby who administered the oath of allegiance. "It's a wonderful feeling for us to get the kids together to do this."

Nursing home worker Genevieve Parawan let her two Philippines-born brothers P.J. and Tim Parawan — 12 and 13, respectively — skip morning classes to attend the ceremony.

"I wanted them to really feel what it is and when they saw the video (of President Obama addressing new citizens) they would know the responsibility of being a US citizen," Parawan said.

The boys became eligible for naturalization after their mother earned her citizenship. They were eager to go back to school that day and tell their classmates what had happened.

"They're going to be like 'No, you're Filipino,'" Tim said. "And I'm going to be like, 'No, I'm American now.'"

City and federal officials said that the LA Public Library was a fitting place to hold such an event. Libraries are where would-be citizens can take civics classes, and — thanks to the new "Cities for Citizenship" project — there will soon be financial literacy curriculum intended to help them save for the application process.

The LA Public Library tweeted photos of the event, using the hashtag #newUScitizen.

https://twitter.com/LAPublicLibrary/status/512723251944882177