Lynn Feldman vividly remembers where she was on Sept. 11, 2001.
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Javier Flores remembers watching the television images of the World Trade Center come tumbling down on television.
“It was a beautiful morning, just a beautiful day,” recalled Feldman, director of the Fresno office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “My birthday was two days later, and we had plans to celebrate.”
Her boyfriend, now her husband, worked in the World Financial Center next to the skyscrapers that were pummeled by airliners hijacked and piloted by terrorists.
“It was a quiet day,” said Feldman.
Flores, who grew up in Sanger, watched on television as “the most deadly attack on our country” unfolded.
“I still remember where and when I was that morning and the surreal images displayed on the television that left a lasting impression,” said Flores, whose wife works at the Fresno CIS office.
The 17th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil (New York City, the Pentagon, a farm field in Pennsylvania) served as the backdrop for the monthly naturalization ceremony held Tuesday (Sept. 11) at the Fresno Convention Center.
“We all know it’s 9/11,” said Feldman to the 890 new U.S. citizens representing 55 nations. “Today allows us to reflect on that day. Our country was really shaken that day.”
Feldman started with the federal immigration system two weeks after the attacks.
“I started to help people who wanted to become a part of this country,” she said.
Naturalization ceremonies, said Feldman, are a reminder that the United States is “unbreakable and unbeatable.” She spoke several minutes after a moment of silence was held in honor of 9/11.
“You all left what you knew, and you were unstoppable,” said Feldman. “It’s a great honor to assist you on that final step.”
Flores’ parents were among those who left their home country for the U.S.
“They left everything they knew behind and started a new chapter here in California,” said Flores, the ceremony’s guest speaker.
However, it took some time for Flores to realize that not everyone in his parents’ new country “was an American.” México, he thought, was just another state.
He learned different when his parents took him to their home country.
“Water didn’t easily come out the water spout, it had to be brought into the house from a well,” he said. “The street signs, food and way of life were different to what I was used to.
“Looking back, I laugh because I was so overwhelmed and couldn’t comprehend that I was in a different country.”
Flores said the trip made him “appreciate their sacrifices, sacrifices that I never knew they had made.”
Flores joined the Navy for more than a rumor that “ladies love a man in uniform.”
He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now works at Lemoore Naval Air Station’s clinic.
The American flag, he said, “has many meanings to different people.”
“To me, it holds a special place in my heart. I have seen it fly high in the face of the enemy, have it affixed to my uniform, and even draped over a fallen brother,” said Flores.
“After today, you all will look at our flag more differently as well because of the hard work that you put in to be here today.”
Sofía Flores, who asked for the moment of silence before rattling off the names of the countries represented and the number of new citizens for each, added a few words.
“This day reminds us that we are a country of immigrants,” she said.
Defending immigrants’ contributions
Consuelo García, a 55-year-old native of Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, was among the 579 Mexicans who dominated the ceremony.
“If it wasn’t for the Mexican people and other immigrants, this country would go away,” said the McFarland resident who used to work in the fields.
García started her naturalization process in February so that she could remain close to her four grown children.
Luis Felipe Rapalo, a 64-year-old resident of California City, came to the U.S. when he was 33. The construction worker believes that U.S. citizenship will make life easier for him and his wife.
One of their four children has become a U.S. citizen.
Where they came from
1. México, 579; 2. India, 80; 3. Philippines, 47; 4. El Salvador, 27; 5. Laos, 11; 6. China, 10; 7. Guatemala, 9; 8. Iran, 8; 9. Fiji, Vietnam, 7. Also: Chile, 1; Colombia, 4; Costa Rica, 2; Honduras, 6; Nicaragua, 2; Perú, 4; Venezuela, 3.