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On the Fourth of July, Louisville gained 37 new U.S. citizens

37 people became U.S. Citizens at the Fourth of July naturalization ceremony in Locust Grove
Divya Karthikeyan
37 people became U.S. Citizens at the Fourth of July naturalization ceremony at Locust Grove.

On America’s Independence Day, people from 17 countries became U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony in Louisville.

Families packed the back of the room at Locust Grove, waving miniature American flags and trying to grab what was left of the limited seating.

Every Fourth of July, non-citizens take the oath to become U.S. citizens after years of building communities and families, and filing reams of paperwork in hopes of staying in the U.S. for a few years, decades, and in this case, forever.

And at Locust Grove, 37 people across 17 countries took the oath this year.

Lian Kim and his family were the first to arrive, two hours before the ceremony, and watched an American flag being hoisted up a flagpole. A troop of boy scouts huddled together, and a brass band rehearsed ahead of the ceremony.

Kim and his family are Burmese refugees who came to the states from Malaysia five years ago. He lives with his wife and daughter in Bowling Green, where he also works.

Kim is one of hundreds of thousands of refugees from minority ethnic groups who are fleeing Myanmar due to a civil war after a military coup in 2021, to settle in Malaysia, which does not officially recognize refugees.

As of last month, the UNHCR, UN’s Refugee Agency, said roughly 166,290 refugees and asylum seekers registered with them in Malaysia are from Myanmar.

Kim said he wanted a better life for himself and his family and came to the United States through UNHCR. In Kentucky, he initially felt sad and lonely, and didn’t want to overly rely on the immigrant communities around him. But he said he needed to make it work.

“In the United States, you start again. So, we start again,” he said.

People across 17 countries take the oath of U.S. Citizenship at a naturalization ceremony in Louisville.
Divya Karthikeyan
People across 17 countries take the oath of U.S. Citizenship at a naturalization ceremony in Louisville.

Since the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, it took 92 years for African Americans and 148 years for Indigenous people to gain American citizenship.

Locust Grove program director Raina Melvin said the new citizens join a legacy of individuals who consistently sought to uphold higher ideals.

“Your journey to this moment has been filled with challenges and triumphs, perseverance and hope…today as you sit here, you embody the spirit of the resiliency and pursuit of the American dream,” she said.

As the new U.S. citizens and their families shuffled outside to grab lunch, 19-year-old Fernando Gonzalez made his way to the League of Women Voters booth to sign up to vote.

Gonzalez arrived from Cuba in 2016 and attended middle and high school in the country, and is part of the fastest growing immigrant communities in Louisville.

The Migration Policy Institute, based on U.S. Census Bureau data from 2021, shows Louisville is eleventh on the list of metro cities with the highest percent of Cuban immigrants.

Gonzalez was one of five other Cuban immigrants that were sworn in Thursday. He was happy about becoming a citizen, but he already feels at home here.

“I’m really looking forward to this election and see if things change for the better,” he said.

Next, Gonzalez said he’s thinking ahead and considering going to flight school to become a pilot.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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