They got to America through different means and for varying reasons. Many moved from India, others from nations like South Korea and the United Kingdom. But on Friday, the 24 Pleasanton residents representing seven countries gathered at the Pleasanton Library with one common plan: to be sworn in as new United States citizens.
"Pride, happiness, elation and relief," Parath Ramachandran said, listing off the emotions he felt upon becoming an American citizen.
The naturalization ceremony, organized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services San Francisco Field Office, was the first ever held in Pleasanton.
Sharon Rummery, a public affairs officer with the federal office, said it typically swears in 1,100 new citizens at Oakland's Paramount Theatre every two or three weeks. But occasionally representatives venture into suburban communities for smaller ceremonies.
The one in Pleasanton was born out of a partnership between the library and federal office for its citizenship corners project, wherein libraries set up a display with brochures about citizenship.
"We had visited the library and set up a citizenship corner, and in that process they asked us if (the naturalization ceremony) was something we might do there and we agreed to do it," Rummery said. "With just 24 people, it was very convenient for them because it saved them from driving into Oakland. It was a different feel but the smaller venue makes it a little more personal."
Those seeking citizenship must be at least 18 years old with a green card and the ability to read, write, speak and understand English among other requirements. After the application and interview process, qualified applicants are scheduled for an oath ceremony.
Applicants do not become U.S. citizens until they have taken the Oath of Allegiance. Each year, approximately 680,000 people are affirmed as citizens during naturalization ceremonies.
A conference room in the library was packed full of federal and local officials, family members of the new citizens and well-wishers. On Friday red, white and blue decor hung from the ceiling, and flags flanked the podium where several spoke about the significance of the ceremony.
Nelson Fialho, Pleasanton's city manager, touched on the sacrifices and difficulties intrinsic to moving to a new country. His Portuguese parents moved the family from the Azores islands to the United States during the Vietnam War and became citizens in 1985. Fialho said the challenges, among them finding employment, were so great for his parents that they nearly moved back to Portugal.
"My parents' story is the American story," Fialho said. "To uproot your life elsewhere, to take chances takes an extreme amount of faith, courage and determination. I'm honestly not sure I would have done what you've done."
Amid a speech from Pleasanton Mayor Jerry Thorne and tips on how to register to vote, the 24 local immigrants took the Oath of Allegiance and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Jo Gunderson was one of two Pleasanton residents from the United Kingdom who took part in the ceremony. Her mother, daughter and husband were among those congratulating her afterward.
Gunderson left Yorkshire in 2005, but her mother has lived in the United States since 1990. Her lack of citizenship meant that she could not see her mother for a decade.
"You can't just go in and out of the country when you want to," Gunderson said.
Becoming a U.S. citizen, she added, makes her feel more at ease.
"I feel safe and secure," Gunderson said. "When you're not a citizen you don't feel 100% sure if you're going to have to go back."
Parath Ramachandran, his wife Deepa and son Aditya moved from India to the United States 16 years ago seeking better opportunities. The family settled in Pleasanton in 2007, where Deepa works for Hart Middle School as a campus supervisor. Her husband is employed in the tech industry and volunteers in his son's music program.
Staying in Pleasanton will be advantageous for both their careers, the couple said. Being employed in the Bay Area's tech industry means living close to Silicon Valley, and becoming a citizen could enable Deepa to pursue options like teaching. The ceremony already inspired her to sign up as a poll worker for the November election.
"It is a long journey for many of us, but it is really worthwhile," Parath said.