(CNN) — The atmosphere is hushed and quiet as about 150 people take their seats. They’re each clutching a folder and a tiny American flag. A few whisper about being nervous, but can’t quite articulate why. It’s the ubiquitous butterflies in the stomach that seem to come with any big day, any big decision.
As big days go, this is one of the biggest. All these people are about to become citizens of the United States. They’ll gain the right to vote, to work certain jobs, to serve on a jury and to run for office. In about an hour, at the end of their citizenship ceremony in Atlanta, they’ll officially be American by choice.
Jutka Emoke Barabas smiles for the camera at her naturalization ceremony in Honolulu in 2000.
Jutka Emoke Barabas remembers that jittery feeling well. She was naturalized in 2000 in Honolulu, where she still lives, and is one of several CNN iReporters who spoke about why they chose to become American citizens. “Everyone arrived too early and we found ourselves standing and waiting, hardly able to contain our excitement,” she said. “Everyone seemed to speak at the same time as they shared their stories with one another.” There was a soldier from Cambodia, and Emoke Barabas herself, a political refugee from Hungary.
As a writer with dissenting views, Emoke Barabas said she had been thrown in a Romanian prison under former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Her father showed her a photo of the Statue of Liberty, telling her, “This is the place where freedom lives.” After her release, she said she made it to Switzerland and, eventually, to the United States in 1990. Ten years later, she became a U.S. citizen.
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