Crater Lake shimmers deep blue in the afternoon sun. It’s striking as always in the high Cascades of Southern Oregon. High above the lake surface, on the rim of the old volcano’s caldera, the wind whips an American flag to full display.
A voice comes over a speaker: “Raise your right hand and repeat after me.”
Seconds later, a crowd of family, friends and curious park visitors erupt into applause.
“Congratulations, you are America’s newest citizens,” announces the officiant from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“It was a lot more emotional than I expected it to be,” says Erica McKenzie after the ceremony.
McKenzie came to the United States from Perth, Australia, to study veterinary medicine and is now a professor at Oregon State University.
“It felt like a very special thing to be here with so few people and hear the speeches that they gave and how welcoming they were to introduce us to their country and envelop us as part of it — it was pretty incredible,” she says.
The Crater Lake ceremony is one of 100 naturalization ceremonies being held at National Parks across the country this year. It’s part of the U.S. National Park Service’s centennial celebration.
“I think it’s wonderful that we’re doing these ceremonies at national parks throughout the country — much more powerful and meaningful than doing it at an office building,” says Marsha McCabe, the chief of interpretation at Crater Lake.
Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman speaks during the ceremony to the candidates, and impresses upon them the importance of national parks to the American psyche.
“It is an immense privilege to have these lands available to them as citizens — for them to be owners of these lands,” Ackerman says. “But with that immense privilege comes an enormous responsibility that they take care of them in a way that they’re not only available for them, but for their children, their grandchildren and hundreds of generations to come.”
After the oath, each immigrant steps forward to receive their official certificate of citizenship. With that paper, they will be able to register to vote or run for office, receive full Social Security benefits when they retire, and bring other family members to the United States.
Alma Velazquez lives in Medford with her family. Her grandfather started coming to Oregon from Mexico in the 1950s to work the orchards. Eventually, when she was 6, her parents decided to move to the Rogue Valley permanently.
Velazquez first traveled to Crater Lake as a teenager, so when she was given the option to get naturalized at the park, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I couldn’t imagine a more special place. It’s part of where I grew up, part of Oregon. So, couldn’t be any more perfect,” she says.
For Velazquez and these new Americans, Crater Lake will not just be a spectacular lake in an old volcano — it will be their spectacular lake in an old volcano.
Celebrating the holiday and becoming a citizen at Oregon’s only National Park — it’s all part of the American legacy that now belongs to them.
“It’s going to be unforgettable. Fourth of July — so every year we’re going to celebrate it twice,” Velazquez says.