CLARKSBURG — Razan Zidi became a U.S. citizen on Friday – completing a process that took almost two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, after a long wait to move to the United States.

Her citizenship interview was in August of last year. It took Zidi three months to learn English and she attended Morgantown High School.

On Friday, she and her mother became citizens together along with more than 30 others in a ceremony at the United States District Court in Clarksburg.

Zidi’s family’s story is one of patience. She was born in Syria, but has lived in the U.S. since 2015, the year she turned 13. Her parents applied to move to the U.S. before she was born – and 14 years before they were able to come over. While waiting, they moved to Saudi Arabia, after civil war broke out in Syria. They were able to move to the United States from Saudi Arabia.

Then, the pandemic delayed the citizenship process.

“The thing that bothered me the most was that I wasn’t able to communicate with people,” Zidi said of her experiences. “But other than that, I loved it.”

‘Thankful to have you’

The new citizens are from 19 countries – including Mexico, Syria, Liberia, Venezuela, Russia, the Philippines, India, Belarus, China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Vietnam, Portugal, Thailand and Yemen.

They were presented with certificates from Steve Montgomery of Immigration Services and gift bags and other awards from community officials.

The other new citizens were Sarasvati Vyasam, Erlinda Gonzales Cabral, Olga Darr, Maria Dave Valeroso Diehl, Elizabeth Noemi Knowles, Ruby Goraya, Mihee Joo, Yin Huang, Vivian Nguyen, Mya Gunderson, Melissa Garcia, Serge Semashko, Mayada Mashta, Holifatul Hidayah Stewart, Jiwoo Ryou, Darious Divine Togba, Mary Jean Leones Guthrie, Yuliana Maria Gillespie, Jose Luis Calderon Barrera, Hui Zhu, Yaser Abdul Razak Zaidi, Baldev Singh Rathore, Piyanan Hebb, Ana Teresa Hilton, Kylie Ngan Duong, Justin Jester Patricio Dizon, Assad Ahmed Alhawshabi, Mohammed Are Anbari, Jaime Urbina Rosas and Ali Ahmed Mohammed Alhawshabi.

After they were presented awards, four representatives – Micheal Garcia for Sen. Joe Manchin III, Jessicah Cross for Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, Wendy Madden for Rep. David McKinley and Rhett Dusenbury for Rep. Alex Mooney – presented speeches from those legislators.

Before reading what Manchin wrote, Garcia shared a personal anecdote.

“I feel very lucky and blessed to have been born in this country, but I can’t help but think back to my grandfather, Manny, or Emanuel ...,” Garcia said. “My son and I would not have been able to have the experiences in America without my grandfather, Emanuel, making the choice to be a citizen. So, you all are making a decision today that is not just affecting you, its affecting your families and this community, for a long time to come. We’re very thankful to have you.”

‘Not an easy process’

Darious Togba, a new citizen from Liberia, also was excited. His citizenship process took about a month and a half, but he has lived in the United States for around seven years.

Togba celebrated with his wife and son. After Togba received his certificates, his son ran over to sit on his lap.

“It was not an easy process, but I made it out of there and I became a U.S. Citizen,” Togba said.

The Robert C. Byrd High School JROTC Color Guard presented, posted and retired the the colors, Reese Weaver of Bridgeport High performed the national anthem and the Daughters of the American Revolution provided refreshments and dessert.

Afterward, new citizens were invited to fill out their voter registration information – which Cross and Capito said is one of the most important tasks they would face.

“As a United States citizen, you are now able to express your opinions through your vote,” Cross said. “I urge you to register as soon as you’re able to access this right, which is the core of our democracy. Your voice is so important and I encourage you to use it.

“It is a sacred practice that I hope you will treasure. You have shown such courage and dedication to this country and I’m so lucky to have you as United States citizens.”

Reach me at sshriver@timeswv.com or 304-367-2549.

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