Suffolk youth to become citizenPublished 10:22pm Friday, March 8, 2013
Suffolk resident Ian Odhiambo Oduor will be able to call himself a U.S. citizen for the first time after a symbolic 2 p.m. ceremony Saturday at Jamestown.
As residents in his home country of Kenya hope the recent election does not cause an outbreak of violence like the last election in 2007, Ian will be among 50 teens from 28 countries to become American citizens during the ceremony.
“I’m really excited,” Ian said Friday. “It means a lot to me. So many people don’t have the same opportunities as I do, especially back home in Kenya.”
Ian’s family came to Hampton Roads in 2007, when his father, Dr. Julius Nywalwidhe, took a job as a research scientist and assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he currently researches prostate cancer, Type 1 diabetes and infectious diseases.
The family immigrated through the Diversity Visa Lottery, through which the U.S. Department of State issues 50,000 visas each year to people from countries with low levels of immigration to the United States. They had lived in Germany since Ian was a young boy.
“Germany was very difficult for me,” Ian said, recounting his first day of kindergarten. “For most of the kids, it was their first time seeing an African child.”
Ian eventually adjusted, but he enjoys now living in America, he said.
“I believe in America, you have more freedom and opportunity,” he said.
Ian’s father already became an American citizen in November. Because Ian is under age 18, he now receives his by virtue of his father’s citizenship.
It is perhaps not surprising, considering his background, that Ian’s favorite subjects at Nansemond River High School are science and U.S. history. However, he is leaning toward science and wants to pursue a career in medicine, like his father. Rather than research, however, he is leaning toward pediatrics and hopes to be accepted to the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary or Duke University to begin his studies.
Nywalwidhe said he is grateful for the opportunities in the United States, particularly public education.
“Compared to the situation back home in Kenya, it is very different,” he said. “If you are not from a rich background, education can be very difficult.”
He also applauded the country’s democracy.
“In U.S. elections, there’s no violence,” he said. “People accept the results. People an disagree, but it doesn’t turn violent. That’s the beautiful thing about democracy, and I think it’s one of the things people here take for granted.
“It’s really great to be a citizen of this nation,” he continued. “You can almost achieve what you want to achieve based on merit.”
The ceremony at Jamestown, where some of the country’s first European immigrants came ashore, will include the young people taking the Oath of Allegiance and receiving formal acknowledgement of their citizenship. Other participants hail from countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Ecuador, Jordan, Mexico, Korea and Vietnam.
The 2 p.m. ceremony is open to the public on a space-available basis. Participants and their families will receive a guided tour of Jamestown Settlement following the ceremony.