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Originally published Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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545 immigrants celebrate Independence Day by becoming U.S. citizens

Michael Oskouian became an American citizen Friday. He's in plenty of time to vote come November. But after nine years of seeking citizenship...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Michael Oskouian became an American citizen Friday. He's in plenty of time to vote come November. But after nine years of seeking citizenship, it's none too soon for the Iranian-born insurance broker.

Oskouian, who lives in Kirkland, is a frequent attendee of Kirkland City Council meetings. He hopes to run for office someday. He's glad to end the frustration of not being a full participant in his government.

"Now I don't have to preach unto others, I can actually be part of the process, which really excites me a lot," Oskouian said. "I giggle. I do."

Oskouian was among 545 new citizens who raised their right hands at a naturalization ceremony Friday at Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion. The new Americans hail from 78 countries, as near as Canada and as far away as Togo.

Friends and family crowded the stairwells and perimeters of Fisher Pavilion during Friday's ceremony. Some waved flags and wore bucket hats emblazoned with "USA." Others hoisted toddlers on shoulders or clutched red, white and blue carnation bouquets for loved ones.

Those partaking in the ceremony were seated on the floor. Some dressed in suits. Others wore hijabs and turbans, Indian kurtas and saris. There were those in fatigues and white Navy uniforms — seven of the new citizens are in the military, three of whom have served in Iraq, said Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Sharon Rummery.

"We're a city of opportunity because we're a city of immigrants," said Mayor Greg Nickels, who was master of ceremonies. Nickels said one in six Seattle residents was born in a foreign country.

After the ceremony, Oskouian's mother, Monir Oskouian, rushed in to hug her son, camcorder in hand.

"I feel different," Oskouian said after kissing his mom on both cheeks.

Though he's married to an American, Oskouian's citizenship application stalled for almost a decade due to paperwork lost at Citizenship and Immigration Services and an FBI background check that seemed to take forever. With a clean record, Oskouian suspected the lengthy background check had to do with his country of origin.

Oskouian came to the U.S. from Iran in 1984. He was 12, which was old enough to be drafted as a minesweeper at the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war. So his mother, who was already living in the U.S., took pains to have her children join her here.

Oskouian's father was a general in the Iranian military and unable to leave the country. Oskouian didn't see his father for six years.

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In Iran, the position of a general's son afforded privilege. The family had a government-assigned Chevy Impala, two drivers and household servants. In America, Oskouian's mother cut hair, did alterations at a bridal shop and took on more sewing at home to sustain the family.

"We knew in order to succeed in America, you need to work hard," Oskouian said.

Along with his mother, his wife and a handful of friends also watched Friday as Oskouian received the capstone to his immigrant journey. U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Beezer administered the oath. Afterward, a line of children in ethnic dress from the world over came forward to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

"I said the pledge in school," Oskouian said. "It's different when you're a green-card holder. Now I own it."

Leslie Anne Jones: 206-464-2745 or ljones@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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