KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- 149 men and women from more than 50 countries were granted citizenship to the United States by a Missouri judge on Wednesday.
For Dejan Dragas, who immigrated from Serbia 10 years ago, the naturalization ceremony at the Nelson-Atkins Museum culminated years of paperwork, interviews, and trips to immigration offices across the state.
"My heart started racing when the national anthem was sang because it was the first time I could cover my heart and actually sing it." Dragas, who was accompanied by his wife and in-laws, said, "I would say this is my second birthday. It`s going to be celebrated as my second birthday from now on."
This group of newly-anointed citizens now have the same rights as anyone born in the United States. They can vote, run for office, and even start their own business.
Andrea Dragas, Dejan's wife, was relived their journey to citizenship is finally over and grateful to have been able to record this momentous occasion.
"To just feel united and not have to worry about going back to immigration, paperwork, and money, it's just been a big day." Andrea said, "I was really pleased with the fact that it was here at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum because when it’s done in the courthouse you can’t bring your phones in. It’s nice because we can actually record the ceremony and we’ll have it forever. It’s not just memories that are going to be in our head, we’ll actually have proof everything so it’s just wonderful."
Samuel Espinoza, who immigrated from Bolivia six years ago, made sure he was perfectly dressed for the moment when he officially became a citizen of the U.S.
"I like my suspenders. I wanted to get the hat and glasses and the pants but then thought it might be a little too much so I just want to show that I`m an American citizen now." Espinoza said," It was very overwhelming but it was very welcoming. It`s a feeling of being part of something, of being welcomed, being embraced. And hearing my name and my country... me representing my country here is something that definitely has an impact on me."
This is a moment Dejan hopes other soon-to-be citizens will continue to work toward and not let the process deter them from reaching their goal.
"If you`re an immigrant, if you`re in the process and you`re watching this just hold on. Sometimes it can be difficult, it can be hard but it`s worth it. It`s worth the journey," Dejan said.