Nathalie Gonzales waited eight years to become an American citizen. Her first stop after the naturalization ceremony? The Bigdog Corndogs stand at the Minnesota State Fair.
"It doesn't always happen, having your ceremony at the State Fair," said Gonzales, who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines.
She was one of 27 people who took the oath of allegiance Wednesday morning at just the second such ceremony held at the Great Minnesota Get-Together in nearly 30 years.
Then, dressed in red, white and blue, the Gonzales family debated between a breakfast of foot-long hot dogs or corn dogs. Nathalie Gonzales' son Nathan clutched the miniature American flag his mom had waved on stage just moments before.
The ceremony on stage at the fairground's International Bazaar was presided over by U.S. District Judge Katherine M. Menendez, who promised not to talk too long and get in the way of the participants getting some good food.
"It combines two of my favorite things, mini donuts and naturalization ceremonies," Menendez said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
The new Americans emigrated from 21 countries, including Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Philippines, Romania, Slovakia, Somalia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Laos, Cambodia, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
Menendez commended the group for their impressive persistence through the process marked by years of paperwork and long waits before being tested and interviewed for citizenship.
"Because you all decided to make the journey to become citizens, our country just got a little stronger, a little richer, a little more resilient," she said. "You aren't the only lucky ones on this stage; we are lucky to have all of your stories and all of your energy."
Gonzales, a nurse living in Stillwater, first came to the U.S. on a work visa. Following many years of waiting, she was granted an interview where she was asked if she wanted to be part of a ceremony on stage at the State Fair — and she thought that sounded exciting.
After the ceremony, her husband, Michael Gonzales, helped his son squeezeketchup onto a corn dog before the family took a breather on a bench beside the stand.
Then they took a stroll through the fair, which got busier by the minute. Nathan, 7, kept waving the miniature American flag as they headed through the Dairy Building.
Michael Gonzales passed his citizenship interview last week and he'll have his ceremony next month. He said he was only a little jealous his won't be at the State Fair.
"It's hard to come here, to America — you're lucky if you are granted a visa," he said. "This is our dream come true to become American citizens."