Thursday, June 05, 2008

Let's Welcome those new U.S. Citizens. Record setting of 18,000 new Citizens in L.A. Including el Piolin Sotelo.

Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo, the popular Spanish-language disc-jockey who helped catapult half a million people to the streets over immigration reform, took his oath Thursday as a new citizen of the United States in a record-setting naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles.

Sotelo, who spent his teen years in Santa Ana after crossing the border from Mexico, was sworn in with about 6,000 other immigrants at the Los Angeles Convention Center – many who hugged him, asked for his autograph and snapped his photo with their cell phones after the ceremony.

The 37-year old radio host has become a figure for hundreds of thousands of Latino immigrants after he helped organize a massive march in defense of immigrants’ rights two years ago. Since then, he has been encouraging immigrants to become citizens on his nationally syndicated radio show, contributing to the unprecedented surge in naturalizations this year.

Sotelo said his personal experiences as an illegal immigrant teen smuggled across the border from Mexico in the trunk of a car, collecting cans in Santa Ana to make money off recycling to help his parents and staving off deportation by landing a work permit at the very last moment – all flashed through his mind during the 25-minute ceremony.

"It is a blessing to be with so many people who are becoming citizens today and from so many countries," said a beaming Sotelo, who was trailed by two dozen photographers and reporters. "This is what we need in the country, this unity, this unity that you see here,"

It was one of three ceremonies held at the Convention Center Thursday to welcome more than 18,000 new citizens from 100 countries, making it the biggest day yet for naturalizations in Los Angeles, said Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Other celebrities have naturalized in Los Angeles in recent years, though some ask to take their oath unnoticed, like South African-born Charlize Theron, Rummery said.

For many Latino immigrants, Sotelo’s decision to become a U.S. citizen was especially meaningful after they’ve listened to him encouraging immigrants to naturalize on his show, which reaches more than five million listeners each day, said Univision spokeswoman Georgia Carrera. The early morning show, which carries his nickname of "Tweety Bird" in Spanish, touches on immigration, community concerns, sports and entertainment with Mexican music and jokes woven in between.

"It gives us even more courage. He’s always helping people and he unites us," said Rosa Maria Gonzalez, 55, of Anaheim, a new citizen who said she listens to his show daily

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, said Sotelo has sent a strong message to his listeners of the contributions they can make to society and the success they can achieve – both through his words and his example.

Victor Rodriguez, professor of Chicano & Latino Studies at Cal State Long Beach, said Sotelo’s decision to naturalize and share the occasion with the public will resonate with listeners, particularly those who cherish their cultural identity and heritage and feel equally tied to, and part of, the United States.

"He has been such a visible leader for immigration reform," Rodriguez said. "He is also challenging this idea that people don’t want to become integrated into American society, that they’re sojourners. I think this is the best kind of countermeasure."

Sotelo, who has been sharing tidbits of his experiences in the citizenship process on the air in recent weeks, said he hopes it will send a message to Latino immigrants about the importance of learning English and becoming citizens – if they are eligible -- so they can vote and fully participate in civic life. He also hopes it will show non-immigrants how much he and other new citizens care about the country amid an often fractious debate over immigration.

"I’m an American citizen, and when you become a U.S. citizen, you have to make sure you’re going to protect your home," he said. "And this is my home

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