Carolina Torres struggled to hold back tears while speaking to an audience Friday, Sept. 17, at the Olmsted County Government Center.

The 32-year-old Costa Rican native, who's lived in Rochester for the last 12 years, became a U.S. citizen last year and was talking about what it meant for her during a celebration for new U.S. citizens during as part of National Welcoming Week.

"I feel free," Torres said. "I'm able to help my family back home."

The event was emotional, Torres said, because it topped off what was a difficult path to becoming a citizen.

"Before I applied for my citizenship, I went back to my country and for some reason, they told me if I go back to my country, I cannot go back to the United States because I had a green card," Torres said. "At that time, Donald Trump was president and I got scared. So I decided to apply for my citizenship."

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Carolina Torres smiles while speaking about becoming an American citizen in 2020 during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Carolina Torres smiles while speaking about becoming an American citizen in 2020 during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

The day she found out she passed the citizenship test, she broke into tears.

"The police officer told me, 'You passed,' and I said, 'Wow,' " she said. "I cried and I said, 'Can I give you a hug?' But he said no because we were in COVID."

In the audience were other new U.S. citizens, including Ana Aduirie, who's lived in Rochester for the last 22 years. Originally from Guatemala, Aduirie immigrated to the U.S. for the same reason many do: freedom.

"For the opportunity in the United States and for freedom," Aduirie said. "It makes me very happy. I love the United States. My son was born here. It's a good thing to get it for my son in the United States."

After Torres spoke, the new U.S. citizens lined up to receive certificates congratulating them on their citizenship, many smiling from ear to ear when they received the certificate.

The celebration started with short speeches from Olmsted County Administrator Heidi Welsch, Rochester City Council President Brooke Carlson and Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel.

"I'm so very honored to be with you all today. What a fitting day, Constitution Day, to be together celebrating our new citizens," Carlson said. "We are so happy and grateful to have all of you in our community."

City Council President Brooke Carlson speaks during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
City Council President Brooke Carlson speaks during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel speaks during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel speaks during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
New citizens are applauded during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
New citizens are applauded during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Raya Mohamed, 14, takes a photo of her mom, Aisha Mohamed, and brother, Hassan Omar, 9, during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Raya Mohamed, 14, takes a photo of her mom, Aisha Mohamed, and brother, Hassan Omar, 9, during a celebration of new American citizens as part of Welcoming Week Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin