SAN JOSE -- As the magical moment approached, Christiane Bastos could do nothing to stop the tears that quickly filled her eyes and became crystal pathways down her cheeks. So many emotions -- mostly happiness and hope -- nearly overwhelmed the native of Brazil as she officially became an American at the first citizenship ceremony held at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library.
"Just thinking about our family history," said the Sunnyvale woman, not bothering to wipe her damp face as she described the sweet feeling of successfully securing something she has been seeking since 1999.
"I came here as a student with the idea of getting an education and going back to my home country," she said. "But I fell in love with this place, with the nation, with the democratic process and with the freedoms people have here. I'm very proud to truly be part of all that."
On Tuesday, the San Jose State graduate and mother of two, joined 78 other immigrants from 31 countries in singing the national anthem, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and taking a solemn oath symbolizing their "commitment to the unifying principles that bind us as Americans."
They joined 6.6 million people naturalized in the U.S. over the last decade. In 2013, 778,127 of them took the oath.
Just last week, Bastos said, her husband also became a citizen.
The list of countries represented Tuesday ranged from Vietnam to Uzbekistan, Pakistan to Poland, Israel to Ecuador. Only one person scheduled for citizenship did not show up for the ceremony.
Kester Ajoku, 51, from Nigeria, couldn't understand that.
Nothing, he said, would have stopped him from making it.
"My brother was here, and so I came in 1986 to study engineering," said Ajoku, a teacher at Campbell Middle School. Throughout the entire ceremony, Ajoku, his wife and three of his six children could not cover their big, beaming smiles.
"I'm feeling very, very good," he said, clutching his crisp new citizenship certificate. "I'm so excited."
The group of new Americans had gathered on the second floor of the MLK Library 30 minutes before the ceremony. They were shown the library's film of King's famed "I Have A Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.
While the film's picture quality was oddly faded and washed out, the soaring oratory -- "... from every mountainside, let freedom ring!" -- seemed perfect for the occasion and seemed to inspire the group.
"My four kids were all born here," said Dulce Tello, originally from Michoacan, Mexico, who was accompanied by two of her daughters: Violeta, 18, and Citalli, 14.
"Since you can never be sure how the laws will change, I thought doing this might be a good idea," she said. "I wanted to be a citizen like my kids.
"Now all of us are true Americans."
A couple of times a month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office in San Jose conducts swearing-in ceremonies. Larger groups, with hundreds of participants, take place at the Heritage Theatre in Campbell. Other ceremonies are scattered around the valley.
The rapt audience was told that the timing of the first such ceremony at the MLK Library was more somber but also special. That's because word had barely arrived that famed folk singer Pete Seeger had died Monday at age 94.
The social activist performer had a close connection to Dr. King. Seeger famously reworked the gospel hymn "We Shall Overcome," and it became the primary anthem of the '60s civil rights movement. King recited its words in the final sermon before he was assassinated.
"Pete Seeger is the man who put that music into the mouths of the people that marched on Washington and in Alabama for the equal rights of all people," said Jim Wyrough, field office director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in San Jose.
"It's good to remember this as we are about to take our oath of citizenship today," he said, "because we are a government of, for and by the people. It's your contributions that drive us forward. It's why we continue to swear in new citizens ... from all throughout the world.
"Because they make us a better place."
Contact David E. Early at 408-920-5836.