Thirty immigrants become citizens at Grand Teton National Park

About half came to Jackson from Mexico, and many others from Eastern Europe. For most, it was a long road to citizenship.
Efren Hernandez, Sorina Juganaru, Humberto Silva and others take the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen at the early August Grand Teton National Park naturalization ceremony. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by | Aug 7, 2023 | Immigration

More than 30 immigrants became citizens last week during an annual ceremony at Grand Teton National Park. It was part of an initiative to connect new citizens to national parks throughout the country. 

About 150 family members and friends of the new citizens gathered on the rainy Friday at a visitor center. Grand Teton Deputy Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail — who’s a first-generation Indian American — kicked off the event. 

“Just like you, my father had the courage and the resilience,” Noojibail said to the crowd. “He took sacrifices to make this dream come true, to do what he needed to do to make life for his family, for my mother and my sisters and I, and that’s why I’m here today.”

The event included an address from Wyoming Congresswomen Harriet Hageman and a prerecorded speech from President Joe Biden.

A melting pot

Members of the group emigrated from places such as Peru, Finland and New Zealand. Almost half came from Mexico, some who have been working in Jackson for over twenty years. 

That includes Efren Hernandez, who works in construction. He first moved to Jackson in 1996, but his family just moved from Mexico two years ago. 

“[There’s] many more opportunities for my family,” Hernandez said, now that he’s a citizen.

Hugo Alavarado Lugo, who became a citizen last week, waves an American flag at the ceremony. He also emigrated from Mexico. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

Marcella Badillo, who also emigrated from Mexico, addressed the crowd during the ceremony.

“I want to thank this country because it’s given me a lot,” Badillo said. “This opportunity is not really easy to get, and I’m so proud of what I’ve been dealing with to be here.”

‘A long process’

Others in the group came from countries in Eastern Europe.

Sorina Juganaru came to Jackson from Romania eight years ago for a summer job. She decided to stay when she met her husband and has been working to become a citizen for the past three years.

“It’s been so intense and such a long process,” Juganaru said.

She was one of two Romanians being naturalized on Friday. She said the Eastern European community has grown since she first got to town, with others emigrating from Moldova and Serbia. 

Juganaru added becoming a citizen opens up new opportunities for her career — liking getting a masters in law — and for her family.

Her 4-year-old son, Junior, sat on her lap during the closing remarks as she teared up.

“I just wanted to have him close to me today,” Juganaru said. “It’s just such an important day.”

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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