From left, Jose Perez, Christian Ramirez and Juan Reyes, raise their hands as they are sworn in as new U.S. citizens on Friday, June 7, 2013, during a
From left, Jose Perez, Christian Ramirez and Juan Reyes, raise their hands as they are sworn in as new U.S. citizens on Friday, June 7, 2013, during a naturalization ceremony held in the Great Kiva at the Aztec Ruins National Monument. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

AZTEC — Ten immigrants, originally from five different countries, became U.S. citizens on Friday.

The naturalization ceremony was held in the Great Kiva at the Aztec Ruins National Monument, an auspicious, if not unusual, setting for an event that normally takes place in venues younger than 900 years.

The newest citizens stood and took an oath of allegiance to the nation and the Constitution before family, friends and officials who filled the oval-shaped Puebloan community room.

"The Great Kiva in which we now gather was the spiritual and community center for the people who lived in and about these Aztec Ruins in the 12th and 13th centuries," said M. Christina Armijo, a chief U.S. district judge who presided over the ceremony. "It is only fitting, then, that we gather together in this historic venue to celebrate your citizenship."

Armijo emphasized an active civic life with special care paid to others.

"Extend the hand of friendship and greeting to those fellow citizens who are elderly or alone," she said. "Lend a hand to those less fortunate. And with special emphasis, reach out to the children and youth in our society. Let them know that you can make a positive difference in their lives."

That message was echoed in remarks made by other officials, including Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge.

"All of our many paths have merged together here today. Today was a large step," said Burbridge, a descendent of pioneering homesteaders who arrived in New Mexico in the mid-1800s. "Being active in your community is a big piece. Make the place where you live the place you want to live."

Arriving from Canada, Ecuador, Honduras, Germany and Mexico, the 10 new citizens, holding small American flags, received their certificates of citizenship, beaming in the fireworks of camera flashes taken by supporters.

After the Aztec High School ROTC saluted and carried the state and national flags out of the Great Kiva, attendees stood outside for a performance by the the Haak'u Buffalo Dance Group, an Acoma Pueblo group.

Chief U.S District Judge Christina Armijo presents Yadira Meraz with a naturalization certificate during a naturalization ceremony on Friday, June 7, 2013,
Chief U.S District Judge Christina Armijo presents Yadira Meraz with a naturalization certificate during a naturalization ceremony on Friday, June 7, 2013, in the Great Kiva at the Aztec Ruins National Monument. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

"My dad came from the Ukraine in 1926 without any money for himself to eat, trying to get to his brother on the West coast," said newly minted citizen Olga Glassot. "All of our miraculous paths we've taken, if I could draw a map of them all, I would mark where each decision was made to move in this direction or that. It would be a wonder."

Though she came to the U.S. from British Columbia more than 40 years ago, Glassot decided to become a citizen after retiring from the Santa Fe Opera.

"I've bought land here. I've built a home. I care, so I thought, 'What have I been waiting for?'" she said. "It's emotional, but it hasn't quite sunk in yet."

Valentin and Yadira Meraz, originally from Mexico, were happy and eager to celebrate achieving citizenship.

With an average wait time of three to five years for applicatants, the event represented a legal and personal milestone for the applicants.

The basic application process for intending citizens costs hundreds of dollars in fees, requires successfully navigating interviews and passing a civics test of 100 questions, all of which must in English.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fiscal year for 2012, 763,000 immigrants were nationalized nationwide. That same year in New Mexico, 2,689 became citizens. Of those, more than half came from Mexico.

The Merazes beamed as they left the Errol Morris Visitor's Center at the Ruins.

"It's a very great day," Valentin Meraz said.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @fentondt