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    Posted June 16, 2012 by
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    New citizens: Why did you become American?

    More from PuakeaJutka

    Citizenship of Aloha


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     PuakeaJutka was naturalized in 2000 in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she still lives. As a writer with dissenting views, she said she had been thrown in a Romanian prison under former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. 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. You can read more about her story and what U.S. citizenship means to her on CNN.com.
    - rachel8, CNN iReport producer

    Our lives are made up of important events which we never forget. We cherish them in our hearts forever, like the great day I took the Oath at the U.S. Citizenship Ceremony to become a proud U.S. Citizen in 2000. That was a noble day and will always be in my heart as a symbol for Freedom itself. I always wanted to become an American Citizen from my earliest childhood memories. It meant so much more to me as just to “live the American Dream".


    The yearning for Freedom began for me when I was a child. One day, my Father, a Freedom Fighter in a foreign occupied country, secretly showed me an old beaten up picture which he had to hide from the secret police. He pointed to a beautiful but slightly faded statue of a woman holding aloft a golden torch. He told me that I should look at the picture very well, because this is the place where Freedom lives. I think that the words he whispered to me that day made me want to become a freedom fighter, as well. As a young 19-year-old writer, my fight against a cruel regime put me in a political jail in 1972 where I was severely beaten. Tragically, my fiancée, a young Polish writer, was killed in the same prison. We were just three short weeks away from being married when we were arrested.

    After I was released from the political jail nearly lifeless, I managed to escape with the help of my Father, hidden in a small crate, which was meant for a fruit transport to Switzerland. There, I found political asylum after staying in a refugee camp. I will never forget the day I escaped. It was a beautiful day near the end of August. I was crouched in the extremely small place of the crate and could hardly breathe. I had no luggage and had only a used street car ticket in my pocket. I happened to see something that became a symbol for my entire life. It was 1972, the year of the Munich Olympics. The Olympic torch was carried by a runner who passed by the truck where my crate sat. Through the cracks of the wooden box, I clearly saw the flames of the torch, which brought back the memory of the torch I saw on my Father’s faded picture of the Statue of Liberty.

    When they nailed down the top of that crate, it was as if I had been sealed into a coffin. My old life ended that moment and a new one began. There were plenty of hardships as a refugee, but I had such great hopes of making it to Freedom. For the next 18 years, I was not able to see or speak with my family. After working as a dish washer, an office clerk, and a telephone repair specialist, I finally found it possible to begin studies in classical archeology and ancient history at the University of Zurich in Switzerland on a scholarship.

    My studies finally brought me to America as an exchange student. I also became eligible as a writer for the A1 Extraordinary Abilities visa for the Green Card (permanent resident status). Five year later, I applied for U.S. Citizenship. At long last, the day of the U.S. citizenship swearing-in ceremony arrived. I invited my friends in Honolulu to the ceremony. We arrived early at the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii where the ceremony was scheduled to take place. I found that everyone arrived too early and we found ourselves standing and waiting, hardly able to contain our excitement. Everyone seemed to speak at the same time as they shared their stories with one another.

    One of the attendees was a soldier and he was one of the “Cambodian Boat People.” He fled the Khmer Rouge regime as a small boy in the late seventies with many other people, all crammed into a small boat which capsized in the high seas. Half of them drowned. His father was also lost at sea, but he survived and finally made it to America, ready to give his own life for his new Country. Everybody's story was remarkable and full of tribulations.

    The excitement and anticipation became palpable when the doors opened and we could enter the Court room. It was an incredible moment. They guided us to seats reserved for jury members. At that moment, several great American films that dealt with court proceedings came flooding into my mind, such as the “12 Angry Men” starring Henry Fonda. Then, they invited in the visitors, but I was too overcome with emotion; I could not even wave to them. I simply sat there quietly, mesmerized by the greatness of these life changing moments. Then, the Judge came into the room and we all stood. I tried to hold back my tears and listen to the Judge’s instructions, but my mind’s eye wandered off again into the dark, horrible jail cell where I had been for too long, and then to the bursting light of the Olympic torch that I saw when I escaped to become an American Citizen.

    For me the American Citizenship means: freedom of expression and to live and work in a free country—a place that truly allows people to enjoy “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and not have to be afraid of being arrested or harassed because of owning certain common books or pictures. It is a great privilege to live without undue limitations. Everyone who was born in America should remember and cherish being an American. It is the true home of Freedom and the beacon of the free World. I am so very grateful for all the opportunities and freedoms I have had here, such as building my own business, living a good life without fear and oppression, and enjoying the company of the wonderful people of this great Country who have always helped me to reach my dreams and to forget my troubling past. To be an American is not just a great honor, but also an obligation to do more and reach higher.

    Later we had a wonderful Citizenship party with all our friends and with beautiful Hawaiian music and songs. I was honored with the American flag, which was presented to me by the Royal Hawaiian Guard. I received many presents symbolizing this great Country, including a great American novel, an American football, a baseball bat, a Cracker Jack box, a hula hoop, and more. I was surrounded, not just by my friends, but also by the spirit of our wonderful Hawaiian Aloha: it was honestly the greatest evening of my life. That day, I became not just an American Citizen, but also a part of our beautiful Hawaiian Ohana (family). Sadly, a few who attended these ceremonies are not with us anymore, but they were great Americans who taught me not just to be a good American Citizen, but also a better human being. I have never regretted becoming an American Citizen. I love the United States of America and I love Hawaii, my beloved Home. Thank You: PuakeaJutka

    Note: The photos are not the best quality;  I scanned them into the computer from old paper copies. Photos by Gabor Paczolay, Honolulu, Hawaii 2000

    Photos edited by Jutka T. Emoke Barabas

    1, As a proud new Citizen, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2000

    2, Waiting a front of the Court room

    3, In the juror's seat

    4, With the Citizenship document

    5, One of the Court's clerk congratulates me

    6, Honor watch with the Royal Hawaiian Guard (I designed and made my T-Shirt myself)

    7, The Flag Ceremony

    8, Circle of Aloha

    9, Oath of Allegiance to the United States

    10, Trying out to be a "real" American

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