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Woman celebrates her 28-year journey to becoming an American citizen

After 28 years of trying and one pandemic later, a U.S. citizen naturalization event gave Francisco Mendez the chance to celebrate her citizenship.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An event on Saturday in downtown Knoxville was more than a celebration or a ceremony for many of the attendees. It was also an opportunity for newly naturalized U.S. citizens to finally feel like they belong, after an event in 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic.

For Francisco Mendez, one of the attendees who celebrated her new citizenship, it was extra special after spending the last 28 years trying to get today.

"I'm so so happy, and now it's more happy! I am an American citizen," she said.

She said the road to saying she was an American citizen was not easy, and she had to overcome obstacle after obstacle to be able to celebrate on Saturday.

The journey began around 9 years ago when she packed up her old life and came to the U.S.

'What has been most important to me, and what I have learned, is to always keep a positive attitude; to be thankful for the opportunity to be here," she said with the help of a translator at the event.

Mendez is one of many people in Knoxville and across the country who are finally getting the chance to call this place home and to mean it.

"It's incredibly beautiful. It's great being here calling this place home," said Mendez. "It's such an incredibly happy moment. It's very joyful that she even wants to let out a huge shout."

Organizers said receiving citizenship means too much to people for them not to celebrate. 

"We understand the importance of what it means to become a citizen for a lot of our community," said Nic Mekdara, one of the organizers.

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