Nikita, who came to the U.S. from Moldova with his mother, Ina, waves his American flag before the ceremony. (Photo: Sam Stroozas)

At the first event of its kind, 484 new citizens from 78 countries were sworn in as U.S. citizens at the Welsh-Ryan Arena at Northwestern University Friday afternoon.

More than 1,000 individuals and their family members filled Welsh-Ryan Arena as U.S. District Court Judge Sunil R. Harjani, Northern District of Illinois, administered the Oath of Allegiance followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Becoming an American citizen is not easy, nor should it be,” Harjani said. “It is a privilege to become an American and it takes hard work to get there. This kind of moment only happens once in your life.”

Abdulatif Almokdad at the ceremony. (Photo: Sam Stroozas)

Abdulatif Almokdad and his family fled Syria and came to the United States as refugees.

“We are very excited,” he said. “It’s the greatest thing to happen in our lives to become a U.S. citizen. We suffered a lot to come here.”

Vanessa Bustos, originally from Mexico, had a first-row seat to watch her father, Norberto Bustos, become a citizen.

Norberto Bustos and his daughter, Vanessa, after the ceremony. (Photo: Sam Stroozas)

“We were privileged because my brother joined the U.S. Navy and because of that, the process was expedited and we are very fortunate,” she said. “Most often, it takes 10 years or even more. Unlike many of my friends, I don’t have to worry anymore about my parents, but this is not a reality for everybody, which makes me all the more grateful.”

Norberto is most excited about voting and traveling, and Vanessa said she hopes to take her father to Iceland this summer.

Tualia Khan, age 19, has been living in the United States with her family and is originally from Pakistan.

“It has been over seven years, but I am finally going to be a U.S. citizen,” she said. “I am so excited.”

David Coulombe. (Photo: Sam Stroozas)

Eight years ago, David Coulombe came to the United States from Canada to be with his wife, who has since died. He said he brought only two suitcases and a bag to start his new life in America.

Coulombe wore a small American flag pin on his suit to show how much he loves the country, he said, and is looking forward to voting in the midterm elections this fall.

“This is the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one.” 

Darwin Tapia, a voter registration volunteer, passed out registration forms to the new citizens. He said he volunteers at all of the Cook County ceremonies in downtown Chicago and helps explain the voting process – a new right many are interested in exercising. 

“We just want them to be able to express their new right,” Tapia said. “My parents couldn’t vote for a long time, so this is a small step, but it makes me feel good just watching people.”

Ina Modiga takes the Oath of Allegiance with her daughter. (Photo: Sam Stroozas)

Rosemary Mattner waited for her brother, Giovanni Flores, the last sibling in her family to become a U.S. citizen. Mattner and Flores are from the Philippines.

“I am really happy for my brother,” Mattner said. “He loves this country.”

Ina Modiga held her daughter through the ceremony as her son Nikita waved the miniature U.S. flag given to all new citizens. Modiga, who immigrated from Moldova, said she was happy to experience the day with her children.

“I have been waiting for this a long time.”

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Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a reporter and the social media manager at the Evanston RoundTable. She covers small businesses, social justice and human interest stories. Contact her at and...

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