H’Bion Buonto, of Marysville, will be one of about 500 people participating in the U.S. Naturalization Ceremony at the Seattle Center on the Fourth of July after recently passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

H’Bion Buonto, of Marysville, will be one of about 500 people participating in the U.S. Naturalization Ceremony at the Seattle Center on the Fourth of July after recently passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

She’s becoming a US citizen on Independence Day

After 24 years here, plus hours of studying and a test, H’Bion Buonto is an American.

MARYSVILLE — This Fourth of July is more than the usual family backyard barbecue for H’Bion “Bione” Buonto.

It is a colossal party of patriotism.

She and about 500 other immigrants will recite a mass pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag at the Seattle Center when they take the oath of American citizenship.

It is one of many naturalization ceremonies on Independence Day around the country for people who recently passed the test to become a citizen. Family members and the public are invited to attend the free celebration, which starts at noon Wednesday at Fisher Pavilion.

After being sworn in, Buonto will receive her certificate of naturalization.

“It means a lot now that I’m officially American,” said Buonto, 36.

She came to Washington from the mountain highlands of Montagnard in Vietnam when she was 11 with her parents and brothers.

Time flew by for Buonto. She graduated from Lynnwood High School and moved to Marysville, where she is raising four children, 4 to 16. She works in sales at Seattle Premium Outlets.

Buonto lays out the two dresses she is choosing between to wear on to the U.S. naturalization ceremony on the Fourth of July in Seattle. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Buonto lays out the two dresses she is choosing between to wear on to the U.S. naturalization ceremony on the Fourth of July in Seattle. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The citizenship process costs $725 and takes time, appointments and studying. She had been too busy with work and family to consider it until an acquaintance brought it up.

“My friend said, ‘Bione, are you a real citizen?’” she said.

She felt like it, even though she wasn’t on paper. So she decided it was time.

“I’ve lived here 24 years. This is my country, then why not become a citizen?” Buonto said. “I thought it was so hard. I was so nervous.”

Her dad had taken the U.S. citizenship test and passed, but her mom had given up after failing. Applicants get two chances to pass the civics and English tests, then they must start the application process over. There are 100 civics questions to study. They need to answer six out of 10 questions correctly to pass, but don’t know which 10 they will see on their test. The English test has three components: reading, writing and speaking.

The 100 civics questions were the challenge for Buonto, but she was undaunted.

“I was like, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” she said. “I kept practicing. I got 85 percent. I kept doing it, memorized every little one of them, until I got 100 out of 100.”

She was feeling confident until her 11-year son, Jayden, started messing with her mind.

“He said, ‘Mommy, I hear there are going to be three guys and they’re all wearing suits and dark glasses. You’ll be sitting in the front in a spotlight.’ I said, ‘No way,’ but I got really scared.”

Of course, it wasn’t like that at all. At the Seattle district office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, she answered the first six civics questions correctly, passing with flying colors.

“Now that maybe I understand more I can help my mom with it,” Buonto said. “That’s my goal.”

While Buonto was studying for the U.S. Citizenship Test she wrote notes on the outside cover of her test booklet. She points at the list all of the United States presidents she wrote out. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

While Buonto was studying for the U.S. Citizenship Test she wrote notes on the outside cover of her test booklet. She points at the list all of the United States presidents she wrote out. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The third time taking the test was the charm for 27-year-old Ifen Zebari, of Lynnwood, another new citizen who plans to be at the Seattle ceremony.

She didn’t speak English when she came to the U.S. from the Kurdish region of Iraq in 2009 for marriage. Her three children were born here and are citizens, as is her husband, a Kurdish refugee who immigrated to America with his family as a teenager.

Zebari passed the citizenship exam in May, her third time taking it after having to start the process over.

She was nervous, but answered all the questions correctly. She didn’t believe the test proctor when he told her she was finished.

“I asked him, ‘That’s it?’ He said, ‘Do you want more questions?’”

Zebari has been celebrating her achievement with plans to visit her family in the Middle East next year.

“It will be easier to travel,” she said. “I feel more free to do things and contribute more here.”

She said she is looking forward to voting.

Both Zebari and Buonto were assisted by Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, an agency based at Everett Community College with other satellite offices in Western Washington. Workers are fluent in languages that include Ukrainian, Bosnian, Vietnamese, Arabic, Spanish and Russian.

Van Dinh-Kuno, director of the agency since 1985, and her staff help clients overcome the fears and obstacles.

“They say, ‘It’s too complicated. I’m scared to take the test. I don’t have the $725,’ ” Dinh-Kuno said. “Every year we help out with over 250 applications.”

Her agency offers financial and tutoring assistance.

“We practice writing over and over and over. We do a mock interview. We do that to make sure our clients know what to expect and feel familiar with the process,” she said. “We help them study the 100 questions.”

They also will accompany clients for moral support.

“My success rate is 94 percent,” Dinh-Kuno said. “With the uncertainty of our country, I advise all people who have been here to apply. We had an increase of 35 percent last year.”

Dinh-Kuno, who raised three children in Mukilteo, became a U.S. citizen in 1982.

“I don’t take it for granted,” she said. “I was so proud this country gave me the privilege. Our country is built on immigrants.”

Andrea Brown: abrown @heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

Ceremony

The U.S. naturalization ceremony is at noon Wednesday at Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. The Navy Band Northwest will perform at 11:15 a.m.

For more information, call 206-684-7200 or go to www.seattlecenter.com/naturalization.

Share your experiences and photos from naturalization ceremonies using the hashtags #newUScitizen and #July4th. Follow on Twitter (@uscis), YouTube (/uscis), Facebook (/uscis), and Instagram (@uscis).

How many can you answer?

Here are 10 sample civics questions.

1. Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.

2. When was the Constitution written

3. How many amendments does the Constitution have? 4. What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?

5. We elect a U.S. senator for how many years?

6. Who was president during World War I?

7. Who was president during the Great Depression and World War II?

8. Name one U.S. territory.

9. What did Susan B. Anthony do?

10. Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?

Answers:

1. Missouri River, Mississippi River

2. 1787

3. 27

4. The Louisiana Territory

5. 6.

6. Woodrow Wilson

7. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

8. Puerto Rico. U.S. Virgin Islands. American Samoa. Northern Mariana Islands. Guam

9. Fought for women’s rights. Fought for civil rights

10. John Roberts

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