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POWELL, Wyo. — Tuesday was a big day for Jesus Jonathan Davila.

In the shadow of Heart Mountain, on the site of a World War II internment camp for Japanese-Americans, Davila became a U.S. citizen.

Waiting for him in the crowd was another freshly minted citizen, his 5-week-old daughter Laikynn, in the arms of his wife, Meagan.

Davila was born in Mexico and immigrated to Worland with his parents in 2001. Today he is a high school math teacher in Worland. He met Meagan, a native of Worland, at church.

He said it was especially moving to become a citizen at what used to be the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp. It was one of 10 such camps established by executive order of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942.

Tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry were swept from their homes on the West Coast and put in the camps for the duration of the war.

It is a tragic place, Davila said, "but at the same time it's a place of hope and perseverance."

That was the same message delivered by Shirley Ann Higuchi, the chairwoman of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, whose parents met at the internment camp as children in the 1940s.

Higuchi, an attorney in Washington, D.C., flew out for the naturalization ceremony Tuesday. She said her parents never talked about the internment when she was growing up, saying only that they had met there.

"For me, growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., Heart Mountain was a place of love," she said.

Though she would later learn it was quite something else for many thousands of people, Higuchi said she was always struck by the lack of bitterness on the part of those who lived at Heart Mountain.

That helped her form her own outlook and made her realize that whatever else Heart Mountain may have been, it brought her parents together and made her life possible.

"I wouldn't be here but for that experience," she said. "You don't get to pick and choose what happens in your life."

Having the naturalization ceremony at Heart Mountain was suggested by Judge Steven Cranfill of Cody. The interpretive center at Heart Mountain opened two years ago and Cranfill toured it for the first time last summer.

During that tour, he said, it occurred to him "how ironic and yet powerful it would be to swear in citizens here."

Cranfill has been a judge for seven years, usually performing three naturalization ceremonies a year. This was the first one not conducted in his courtroom, he said, and he's already thinking of having one next summer at a veterans memorial in Cody.

Cranfill made a few remarks before the ceremony, as did Higuchi, and a choir from Cody High School sang two songs, "Soaring Like an Eagle" and "This Is Our Country." Members of three Boy Scout troops from Cody presented the flag.

The other two speakers were former Sen. Al Simpson, R-Wyo., and his brother Pete Simpson, a member of the foundation board.

Al Simpson congratulated the soon-to-be citizens for working toward this big day.

"We were born to the land of liberty; you sought it," he said.

He also applauded them for having passed a test that demanded an understanding of U.S. history and government.

"You know more about American government and history than 70 percent of our young people -- that's a statistic," he said.

Pete Simpson, a longtime teacher of history and political science, said he took the test himself and missed two of the first 10 questions.

He recalled being taken to "Jap camp," as it was then known, by his Scout master when he was a boy. Two parents refused to let their children go there, he said, but those who did learned a lesson about respect, forbearance and tolerance.

"This place," he said, gesturing to take in the interpretive center, "is designed to teach those lessons day after day, year after year." He also told the aspiring citizens that "your presence here renews our own sense of civic pride and purpose."

"You're the bearers of hope and we're proud to be your fellow citizens," he said.

Cranfill, in his concluding remarks, left the new citizens with some practical advice.

"Always pay your taxes on time, remember to vote and don't litter," he said.



I cover the city of Billings.