RICHMOND -- One day earlier, Kasia Allen was cool and confident about the ceremony she was to attend welcoming her and 74 others as United States citizens.
Then the time for Tuesday's ceremony came. The Naturalization Oath of Allegiance was read, and the tears streamed.
"I rubbed my husband on the arm and told him we may be the only two people crying," Allen, a 40-year-old native of Poland, said minutes after the ceremony. Her husband, United Kingdom native Richard Allen, dabbed at his watery eyes with a tissue minutes later, his new citizenship also official.
"Her way of trying to make me feel better," he said with a chuckle.
Seventy-five men and women from 33 countries became American citizens in the hourlong ceremony at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Homefront National Historical Park. Over 250 people, many family members and friends, were on hand for the big moment, which was held in the Craneway Pavilion, a renovated former auto assembly and World War II defense plant that looks across the bay to San Francisco.
Most of the newest group of citizens are educated professionals who have been working or studying in the country for several years.
More than 763,000 people were naturalized as U.S. citizens last year, the most since 2008, said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Sharon Rummery. About 28,000 of those were in the San Francisco region.
All of Tuesday's new citizens had held green
This was the first naturalization ceremony held at the Richmond waterfront site, which was selected this year to coincide with International Women's Month, Rummery said. The Richmond shipyards were the site of great gains in employment and social change for women and minorities during World War II, as labor shortages opened new opportunities for previously overlooked groups.
Tuesday's keynote speaker was Betty Reid-Soskin, 91, who worked as a union clerk in the East Bay during the war and is the nation's oldest active National Park Service ranger.
Soskin's speech recited the preamble to the Constitution, implored the new citizens to take an active role in civic affairs and stressed that the nation had become a magnet for innovation and energy because of a participatory and sometimes chaotic strain of democracy.
"Our nation will continue to change
The ceremony also included remarks from other National Park Service officials, a national anthem rendition by the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond and a short video of congratulatory remarks by President Barack Obama.
But it was clearly the 140-word oath, taken by millions over the decades, that stirred the deepest emotions.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Western Regional Director Carolyn Muzyka forewarned the new citizens before the oath.
"At the moment the last words are read, you will become a U.S. citizen," Muzyka said, calling it a step that will "change the life of your children and your children's children."
Severin Ouedraogo, a 25-year-old UC Berkeley student from Burkina Faso, a tiny West African nation, was overwhelmed.
"I can't even describe it, it's like nothing I've felt before," Ouedraogo said later, holding a miniature American flag and his certificate of citizenship. "It's something like love."
For the Allens, who both hold doctorate degrees and work at UC Berkeley, the journey to citizenship was long. Kasia came to the United States in 1991 on a full scholarship to study in South Carolina, then did her graduate work at Princeton.
The last 22 years she has been here on student and work visas and then a green card. Three years ago, she and her husband had a son. Tuesday, they joined their son in becoming U.S. citizens.
"This country has been my home all my adult life," she said. "I have always wanted to belong, to not be seen as an outsider."
Kasia said she is looking forward to exercising her rights to vote for the first time.
Soskin closed her speech by addressing audience members by their new titles.
"Welcome to each of you, from each of us, Americans all," Soskin said.