KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A party kicked off at Suttree Landing Park on Saturday. It was to celebrate something that many people may not think about, but these families cherished — their citizenship.
The Welcoming Knoxville Festival was organized to celebrate newly naturalized citizens in the city, as well as the greater immigrant community. It was hosted by the Office of Immigrant Services, a program that provides legal services to immigrants and refugees.
It offers help reuniting families, adjusting status for refugees, working with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals laws and other humanitarian services. They said 98% of applications filed through the office are granted by federal officials, and many people earn their citizenship through it.
The festival started at 11 a.m. with music, free food and even free clothes for attendees. It was meant to provide a public space for the immigrant community to celebrate while welcoming new neighbors who could not participate in ceremonies in 2020.
“After a long year of isolation due to the pandemic, it is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate immigrants and their new lives in the U.S. together,” said Alessandra Ceccarelli, who works with the office. “The Knoxville community should wholeheartedly welcome all new citizens and those who are on a pathway to achieve this goal.”
Officials from the mayor's office also attended, for a total of more than 150 people.
Complimentary food was served by local, immigrant-owned small businesses like Yassin's Falafel House, Bida Saigon, Sitar Indian Cuisine and the Enjoy Latin Food Truck. The Candela Latin Music Band performed salsa music, giving attendees a chance to dance.
The event also gave naturalized citizens a chance to receive information about resources through Bridge Refugee Services, Centro Hispano and HomeSource.
Photo booths, swag bags and giveaways were also available. In May, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee received a $5,000 grant from Welcoming America to fund the event.