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Valleys newest citizens welcomed at naturalization ceremony
Naturalization 1
Immigrants recite the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony held Monday in Modesto, where 157 people from 25 countries became U.S. citizens. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

In 2010, Turlock resident Orestis Panagopoulous came to America from Greece with a goal in mind – to establish a life here and become a U.S. citizen. Seven years later, he took the final step toward making his wishes reality when he, along with 156 other immigrants, recited the nation’s Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony held in Modesto Monday morning.

“It has been a really long journey, and I’m really proud. This is my life here, and this is my country,” said Panagopoulous.

Now married and teaching as an information technology and programming professor at Stanislaus State, Panagopoulous said that though the process to become a citizen was long and arduous, he was motivated, studying for years in order to pass the English and civics tests required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

On Monday, his hard work came to fruition alongside immigrants from countries like Angola, Fiji, France and China during the ceremony held at the Stanislaus Veterans Center, which was part of the USCIS’s annual Independence Day celebration that features naturalization ceremonies around the country. A total of 25 countries were represented at the event in Modesto, including 106 new citizens from Mexico.

“I know that for many of you it has been a long journey, a lot of paperwork and a lot of patience,” said USCIS Fresno Field Office Director Lynn Quan Feldman, who not only administered the Oath to those in attendance, but served also as a beacon of what could lie ahead for the new citizens.

Feldman came to America at a young age as a refugee from Vietnam, she explained. Going from a life of uncertainty as a refugee to working as a federal agent for the country is still something she appreciates every day, and she hoped to see the crowd make the most of their new opportunities.

“You will make the Central Valley even richer today than it was yesterday,” said Feldman.

Feldman and other officers from the USCIS Fresno Field Office traveled to Modesto for the ceremony, which would typically be held in Fresno, saving the Valley’s newest citizens a 200-mile round trip and allowing them to celebrate with their families.

“The United States of America is a nation of immigrants. We’re a melting pot of people who come from across the globe in pursuit of the American dream,” said Congressman Jeff Denham, keynote speaker for the event. “Today marks an important step for each of you, and your hard work to get here is remarkable.”

For Panagopoulous, though Monday symbolized just the beginning of his life as an American citizen, it will be a day he remembers forever.

“This is a dream come true,” he said.