CHARLESTON — Less than 20 minutes after becoming an American citizen, Manuel Antonio Toloza dropped to one knee outside the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse and proposed to his girlfriend, Jenna Nichols.
And she said yes.
Originally from Cuba, Toloza said he’s spent the last five years in the United States, falling in love with its culture. The 19-year-old has spent the last five months working to become a citizen.
Wearing an American flag bow tie on Monday, Toloza said the citizenship process was relatively quick for him. But each of the 49 people at Monday’s naturalization ceremony had their own story to tell.
During the ceremony, Czarina Roseline Wegert, born in Cape Town, South Africa, told the other new citizens and their friends and family about her journey. She was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but came to the United States from Germany.
Wegert, who is black, was forced to flee her home because of the racial apartheid in South Africa. She met her late husband, and they had two children, both of whom were in the audience Monday.
Wegert later returned to South Africa to visit family, but as she was leaving the country, a police officer approached her and told her that black women were being rounded up and sent to prison. She hid in a cabinet on a boat leaving Cape Town. “I became a stowaway,” she said.
“Last night, I cried a good bit of tears,” of happiness and joy, she said.
Naturalization is a 10-step process, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. All naturalized citizens must go through this process, which after applying and being interviewed to determine eligibility, are given tests in English, U.S. history, government and civic principles.
The children of Uchechukwu Ignatius Umeh couldn’t stay still as he got his citizenship certificate from Chief U.S. District Justice Thomas E. Johnston on Monday.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Chichi Umeh, 2, and her older sister, Amarachi, 4, yelled as they ran from the crowd and mobbed their father.
Umeh, 38, has lived in the United States for six years, after immigrating from Nigeria. He said his love for America comes from the comfort of finding a loving wife, Rachel, and fathering two beautiful children. The family now lives in Huntington.
He said that whenever, and wherever, you find peace, then that’s where you stay.
The new Americans, and their countries of origin, are:
Emmanuel Atta Agaba, United Kingdom; Clarissa Mina Andres, Philippines; Abdal Razak Arnaoot, Syria; Robin Arora, India; Shweta Kathuria Arora, India; Thai Hoa Arthur, Germany; Editha Dimailig Bancoro, Philippines; Wilder Fernando Barrera, Venezuela; Hadeel Bawarshi, Syria; Franchesca Maglalang Berry, Philippines;
Adona Jorge Blankenship, Philippines; Ligia Guadalupe Aban Canul, Mexico; Fitsum Garshet Direta, Ethiopia; Ziphokazi Lillian Durr, South Africa; Sarinya Fulton, Thailand; Inoke Kolo Funaki, Tonga; Ai Qiu Chen Hopen, China; Mohammad Aminul Karim, Bangladesh; Vishnupriya Kasireddy, India; Erika Patricia Keeney, Mexico;
Hania Khankan, Syria; Bhavna Rajesh Kumbhani, India; Mavis Effie Kwei-Tagoe, Ghana; Huong Thi Thu Le, Vietnam; Aungrisa Mann, Thailand; Edwiin De Jesus Parra Munoz, Mexico; Fufrun Nahar, Bangladesh; Thai Cao Nguyen, Vietnam; Tracie Truong Nguyen, Vietnam; Kelechukwu Uzoma Okoro, Nigeria;
Nazanin Parirokh, Iran; Nuvia Esperanza Villamizar Pereira, Colombia; Shuguang Qian, China; Mostafa Abdellatif Rawash, Egypt; Victoria Elena Real, Venezuela; Jacqueline Mwende Rector, Kenya; Katarina Krajickova Robinson, Slovakia; Diana Salisbury, Russia; Claudia Lucia Sandoval, Peru; Hanan Nayyef Samo, Iraq;
Delfina Stefania Santos Luna, Guatemala; Jocelyn Canlas Stafford, Philippines; Za Rual Lian Thang, Burma; Manuel Antonio Toloza, Cuba; Uchechukwu Ignatius Umeh, Nigeria; Marina Xusainovna Pyankova Underwood, Russia; Czarina Roseline Wegert, Germany; Shaorong Zhang, China; Yunxuan Zhang, China.