Nearly 150 people hailing from more than 50 countries flocked to the Salt Lake City Public Library on Wednesday to partake in citizenship oath ceremonies and receive their certificate of naturalization — marking a momentous occasion for these newly made U.S. citizens.

Once everyone had been seated inside the library’s auditorium, the organizers of the naturalization ceremonies wasted no time in reminding the newly-made citizens about their rights; in particular, highlighting their newfound right to vote in local and federal elections — a liberty that many participants in the citizenship oath ceremony had never known before.

“One of the best things about the United States is its people and that includes all of you,” said Salt Lake County Clerk Lannie Chapman, addressing those about to partake in the naturalization oath of allegiance. Chapman explained the pride that Americans take in casting their ballots and how our government, as a representative democracy, relies on a demographically diverse pool of involved citizens to elect its leaders.

“Representation, participation and accountable government are not just buzz words — they are essential to our democracy,” Chapman said.

At the ceremony, resources were made available to the newly minted citizens which included voter registration forms and the opportunity to network with advocate groups like the League of Women Voters. Chapman encouraged those in the audience to become informed in local, state and federal politics and to participate by showing up at the ballot box.

Speaking on behalf of the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office, Chapman continued, “As our county clerk, I am committed to ensuring that every voter in Salt Lake City has a proverbial seat at the table and has an equal say in shaping our government — we all deserve to be heard in our community.”

Angel Yovera, from Peru, waves a flag during a naturalization ceremony at the Salt Lake City Public Library in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Lorena Riffo-Jenson, Salt Lake City’s director of economic development, took the stage to speak about her experience as a naturalized U.S. citizen and how despite the struggles, she found a great deal of pride in being able to become a U.S. citizen in 1993 after emigrating from Chile after a coup installed an oppressive dictatorship in 1973.

“I felt joy from my decision to become a citizen of a country that was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all,” said Riffo-Jenson, expounding on how grateful she is that the U.S. is a place where people can express different views and opinions without being intimidated or worse by an oppressive government, like the one her family escaped from in Chile all those years ago — explaining how these differences in opinion are a required component when building an evolving, progressive society.

Riffo-Jenson explained that now that they have this privilege, those in the audience should never neglect their ability to be heard in their new community. For Riffo-Jenson, emigrating to the U.S. meant that she could finally be part of a future where she has the power to make a difference in her community. She encouraged all the new citizens to be an example to their homelands of what individual involvement in the community looks like and to participate in their new government in honor of those around the world who don’t have the opportunity to.

“You are what the United States of America represents to the world — a beautiful tapestry of people with different stories and backgrounds, immigrants who choose to continue to build this amazing country,” said Riffo-Jenson to the audience. “You bring your resilient spirit, your hard work and your perspective — we need you in order to continue to build the history of the United States of America and to keep the light that many around the world are looking for.”

Before handing out the naturalization certificates to those in attendance, the new citizens in the audience were given the opportunity to say a few words about their journey and what this occasion meant to them and their families. One woman in the audience, who was not able to be identified, stood up to share what the day’s ceremony meant to her.

“Our journey has been long and hard, but today my daughter has become a U.S. citizen and that means we can be together in this great country,” said the woman, sobbing. “I am very grateful for this journey to be over and a new one to start — this is the last country with freedom like no other and I am very, very grateful for that.”