He knew the question before it was even asked: “Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar,” Oomer Jiwa explained to nearly everyone he met during the naturalization ceremony at the U.S. District Court on Wednesday.
Mr. Jiwa, 37, whose homeland is the small, nondescript island of Mauritius, was one of 25 new Americans who took the oath of citizenship. The ceremony was held in an outside courtyard near the courthouse.
Even U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary noted where Mr. Jiwa was from.
“He is the first person from that country to become a citizen in this court in more than 25 years,” Judge Zouhary said.
PHOTO GALLERY: 25 take oath of citizenship
The judge, who began the ceremony by greeting each new citizen in their native language, urged them to take advantage of their most precious of rights – the freedom of speech. He urged them to let their opinions be heard about important topics like immigration reform, and encouraged them to vote and become involved in their communities.
Mr. Jiwa, who lives in Toledo, said he came to the United States looking for better opportunities than were available in his county. He found those opportunities immediately.
He arrived in 1997 on a study visa which allowed him to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Western Michigan University. The company that hired him was so impressed with his abilities they filed the forms for him to obtain a green card.
“When I got out of college, I got used to living in a very big country where everything is accessible,” Mr. Jiwa said.
Mauritius is 787 square miles, with a population of 1.2 million people, he said. It’s a tropical island, that is always sunny and “everywhere you go there’s white sand. It’s mostly a European tourist destination,” he said.
That may sound like paradise to some people, but “other than a few big hotels, it looked like a Third World country when I left,” Mr. Jiwa said.
Sami Mejri, 35, of Perrysburg, became a United States citizen in 2006. The native of Tunisia was a guest speaker at Wednesday’s event, which included his wife, Najet Mejri of Tunisia becoming a citizen.
Mr. Mejri said that he also came to the United States seeking better opportunities. He pointed out that in the past six years he has gotten married and now has two children. He worked full-time and attended college. He is currently a full-time math and science faculty member at Tiffin University and will complete his doctorate in 2014.
In his opinion, striving to better oneself and the community is what a real American is, he said.
“I believe patriotism is a lifelong effort,” Mr. Mejri said. “A good American is someone who challenges the status quo. A good citizen is someone who inspires others.”
Contact Federico Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154