First naturalization ceremony held in the Smokies

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GATLINBURG (WATE) – More than three dozen people in East Tennessee became new American citizens Thursday in a naturalization ceremony unlike any other in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was the first time ever that a naturalization ceremony was held within the park.

Forty people from 21 different countries became American citizens. They pledged their allegiance to our flag and sang the anthem of our country.

Among them was Andres Garcia.

“The process has been for 13 years. I came here as an internship after college,” Garcia said.

Originally from Colombia, Garcia is now raising his two children here. Thursday was a day he has been working toward for more than a decade.

“It means freedom. It means now I can sponsor my family and support my family like a real American,” he said.

His naturalization ceremony was special for another reason too since it was the first ever in the national park. It was there because the National Park Service is celebrating 100 years, helping those new citizens are celebrate a new beginning.

“I hope that they will connect with our cultural heritage of this country and the natural heritage of the country,” said Clay Jordan, GSMNP Deputy Superintendent.

As Garcia’s name was called, he beamed with pride and shook the hands of his fellow citizens as he accepted his certificate.

“We’re going to frame it and put it on the wall in the house,” he said.

He now has continued dreams for his future and the future of his kids.

“Better life, better future, better everything,” he said.

Since the November election is also drawing near, any one of those new citizens who live in Sevier County had the chance to register to vote on site. Many of them did so. So far this year more than 1,000 people have become naturalized citizens in East Tennessee. Across the country 609,000 have become citizens this year.

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