As Georgina Claro Velasquez looked out over the rim of Crater Lake late Wednesday morning, she could barely contain her feelings.
"This is the most beautiful country," said Claro Velasquez , 45, who was born in Colombia. "We have freedom here. You just can't compare it with anywhere else. I love it here."
But it wasn't merely the feeling of looking down into the deep-blue grandeur of the nation's deepest lake that inspired her. She was among a dozen new Americans who swore allegiance to their new homeland during a special naturalization ceremony conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service on the spectacular Watchman Overlook. In addition to Colombia, participants hailed from China, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Thailand, The Netherlands, The Philippines and the United Kingdom.
"This has been one of the goals of my life," said Claro Velasquez, who worked at becoming a U.S. citizen for five years.
After living in Colombia for 37 years, she moved to Arizona, where she lived before moving to Bend three years ago. She works as a manager in a retail company, her son is in the U.S. Navy, and her daughter is a senior in high school.
"There is a lot of satisfaction inside of you when you become a citizen," said the new American, who plans to celebrate Independence Day in Bend. "I am a part of this country now."
Although it marked the first time a naturalization ceremony was held at Crater Lake National Park, similar ceremonies were held this week at national parks across the country.
At Crater Lake, Mother Nature kept the Stars and Stripes fluttering with wind gusts while the Three Rivers Chorale and a choir sang "America the Beautiful."
Before asking the new citizens to swear the oath of allegiance, Anne Arries Corsano, district director for the CIS in Seattle, suggested they take a moment to fix it in their memories.
"Close your eyes for a second. Feel the sun," she said. "This is a very special moment."
With that, she administered the oath while each new citizen raised his or her right arm.
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state and sovereignty," she began.
After the new Americans took the oath, she welcomed them as fellow citizens.
"As our newest citizens, you now have the opportunity to voice your opinion and contribute to the well-being of our country," she said.
"I encourage you to serve on your children's school boards, contribute to your community, run for a political office, or help your neighbors to make a difference," she added. "You now have all the rights and responsibilities of United States citizens."
A taped message from President Obama also was played, welcoming the new citizens.
Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman told the new citizens that he was the son of naturalized immigrants.
"My mother was from Italy," he said. "And my father's parents were from Wales and Germany, all naturalized citizens."
What's more, he noted, it was immigrants who helped create what he said was one of America's best ideas — the national park system.
"The father of the conservation movement of this country was an ornery Scotsman named John Muir," he said. "Unlike Europe or many other countries where the most valuable and most special lands were reserved for royalty or the elite, John Muir and others like him believed in a new concept — that the most special places in the United States should be owned by and available to every citizen."
The point, he said, is that the people about to become newly minted citizens are inheriting that national park system, which has been emulated by many other countries.
"You are about to assume some awesome responsibilities," he told them. "Along with your fellow citizens, you will become the new owners of Crater Lake and all these other spectacular places."
Lakeview resident Prinapa Brooks, 44, formerly of Thailand, searched for words to express her feelings.
"I am so very happy, very happy today," she said.
"It has been quite a process — we've been at this six years," observed her husband, Larry Brooks, manager of a shortline railroad out of Lakeview.
The couple met in 2005, and she and her son, Prittara, now 15, arrived in Oregon in spring 2007. They were married in June of that year. With her becoming a U.S. citizen, her son will become a citizen automatically, said Larry, a native Oregonian.
"This is a great setting for this," he said, as he put his arm around his wife's shoulders.
"It is beautiful, gorgeous," she added, softly.
For Samuel Matthias, 27, born in Germany but now living in Salem, becoming a naturalized citizen was a logical step.
"This country has been my home for several years now," he said. "I love the culture. I love the people. I love the country. It is nice to have on paper what I am already feeling emotionally."
He and his wife, Melissa, are directors of a nonprofit group Youth With a Mission. Their baby daughter, Emma, was born in Oregon.
"I'm proud to be from a country where people come and make a home here and they are welcome," his wife said. "This is a good day."
Dallas resident Derek Lee, 59, came from the United Kingdom to settle in northern Oregon a little more than two decades ago. He is employed at Walmart.
It was an American actor who drew the newly minted American to the States.
"John Wayne — he was my hero," Lee said. "I based my life on John Wayne. I was very quiet when I was young, and some bullies tried to bully me. I stood up for myself.
"I am here all because of The Duke," he added. "He was a man among men."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.