PUT-IN-BAY - Pain and hope.
Blanca Alvarez Stransky of the National Park Service used those two words Thursday to sum up the flurry of emotions that immigrants have as they seek U.S. citizenship.
She made the remarks while addressing a standing-room-only crowd of 500 at Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial in Put-in-Bay, not far from where one of America's important battles for freedom was fought 200 years ago.
But even if she hadn't, pain and hope was evident in the voice of former South Vietnam resident Kim Thi Tran, who got choked up and shed tears as she described what it was like fleeing her homeland as a child in the 1970s as it was being overtaken by a brutal Communist regime.
Every immigrant — all 46 sworn at Sauder Village in Archbold, and 11 others at Put-in-Bay in simultaneous ceremonies Thursday — have their stories.
But Tran, now 41 and a nail salon owner in Lima, was overcome by emotion as U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of Toledo handed her a microphone and encouraged her to convey her thoughts on becoming a U.S. citizen.
The number of people sworn in at Put-in-Bay, 11, was small enough for Carr and another jurist who assisted him, U.S. District Judge George C. Smith, to give each of the new citizens an opportunity to address an audience that, only moments earlier, had witnessed their allegiance to America.
Most naturalization hearings are too large for that.
"I don't know how to describe it, but I'm very, very happy," Tran, 41, told The Blade moments after getting a rousing applause and handshakes and encouraging words from officials. She got a warm embrace from Nancy Mills, who represented a Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Perrysburg.
Tran said she remembers her family barely escaping South Vietnam in a boat after that country fell to North Vietnam in 1975, when she was 3.
She and her family then spent an extended time in a refugee camp and emigrated to the United States in 1979, when they were sponsored by a church in San Jose, Calif., she said. Tran was 7 then.
"This is a happy occasion," Carr told the new citizens at the Put-in-Bay event. "This is now your country — not perfect, but certain to be better than what you left."
Alvarez, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, is now the superintendent of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial.
She acknowledged the sacrifice her mother made at age 18 to leave her family in Mexico and start life anew in America.
"As an American, she was not alone because this nation has always been one of immigrants," Alvarez said. "Some stories of immigration are painful and some are full of hope."
The new citizens include two nurses at the University of Toledo Medical College, formerly the Medical College of Ohio Hospital, Merlin Atienza San Diego, a Toledo resident who used to live in the Philippines, and Pammella Ngefor, a Sylvania resident who formerly lived in Cameroon.
"It's a dream come true," Ngefor said.
Gordana Matovic Noblitt, formerly of Serbia and Montenegro, said she fell in love on South Bass years ago when she met her husband, Adam Noblitt, while visiting Put-in-Bay with friends. The couple now lives in Marblehead.
"I'm proud and happy to become a part of this nation and its wonderful people," said Noblitt, who was a physician in Europe.
Ve Emch, formerly of Norway, said she was proud to become an American because the United States "is an example for countries all over the world."
"I really understand this is going to be my home for the rest of my life and I want to put a tiny mark on this country by voting," said Emch, wife of retired neurosurgeon Dr. Willard Emch. The couple lives in Vero Beach, Fla., nine months of the year and three months in the Lake Erie shoreline community of Lakeside.
Duane Williams, 36, of Toledo, is formerly of the Bahamas. An employee of The Andersons in Maumee, he said he has been living in the United States since he was 8 and was glad to become a citizen because it "just makes me feel equal" with others.