Taking Citizenship Seriously

In the past, Adrian Levy hasn’t paid much attention to politics.

But as a newly minted American eligible to vote for the first time in his life, the 37-year-old vowed to take the privilege seriously.

“When I leave this morning, I’m going straight to register to vote,” Levy, who immigrated to Las Vegas from Belize with his parents when he was 5, said Thursday.

Levy, an operations manager for Republic Services, joined 102 other Las Vegas-area residents from around the world who became U.S. citizens during a morning ceremony at City Hall hosted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the city.

Clark County’s newest citizens offered varying opinions about who would make the best next U.S. president, but they are looking forward to casting their first-ever votes as Americans in this fall’s election.

Dory Talastas carries her voter registration receipt in her purse.

The Philippines native became a U.S. citizen a week ago and attended Thursday’s ceremony to watch her husband, Manolo, be sworn in.

The two new citizens came to Las Vegas by way of Hawaii three years ago. They plan to support presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama with their first U.S. votes.

“Obama grew up in Hawaii. All Hawaiians support him,” said Manolo Talastas, a 40-year-old restaurant food runner.

Levy hasn’t decided whom he’ll support.

“I’ve been hearing everyone’s opinions,” he said. “Now I need my own.”

Navy Petty Officer Melvin Banzon, another Philippines native, also is delaying his decision.

“So much can happen before then (the election),” said Banzon, 41, who came to the United States five years ago.

Banzon and others who took part in the ceremony said that like other Americans, they’re concerned about the national economy and the war in Iraq, and that developments on both fronts might influence their votes this fall.

“I want to see how things settle,” Banzon said.

But 27-year-old Kur Ajuong already steadfastly supports presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

Ajuong admires McCain’s service in the U.S. Navy during the war in Vietnam, where he was held for years as a prisoner of war.

Ajuong has had his own difficult past to overcome.

“Have you heard about the Lost Boys of Sudan?” he said. “I am one of them.”

The term was given to more than 20,000 young boys driven from their families during Sudan’s civil war.

Ajuong came to the United States as a refugee seven years ago. He calls his new citizenship “a blessing.”

“Sometimes when you think you can do something, you definitely get it,” he said.

The swearing-in ceremony was part of the city’s Celebrate America initiative to showcase the diversity of the community.

The new citizens represented 50 nations, including Tunisia, Iran, Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ethiopia and Mexico.

Senior U.S. District Judge Lloyd George presided over the hourlong ceremony.

Those who want to become U.S. citizens must first be permanent residents.

After applying for citizenship, they must be interviewed, take a U.S. government and history test, and prove they can read and write English.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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