English Feature #7-33886 Broadcast July 10, 2000
On July 4th, American Independence Day, sixty-nine people were sworn in as new American citizens during a naturalization ceremony at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States. Today's segment of New American Voices is about this ceremony, and about some of the people who became citizens that day.
The municipal band of Charlottesville, Virginia, the town near which Thomas Jefferson built his home back in the mid-18th century, made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in power. About 500 people gathered on the front lawn of Monticello to applaud the band and honor the sixty-nine men, women and children from twenty-four countries who were to take their oath of allegiance to the United States that morning.
The main speaker at the ceremony was Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who came to the United States as a refugee and is herself a naturalized citizen. She recounted the story of her own emigration to America, and pointed out the diversity of this country's new citizens.
"You, the new citizens we will welcome today, are of different races, ages, genders and faiths. You come from countries as large as India and as small as Sierra Leone; from as far away as China, as near as Canada and Mexico. You have traveled diverse paths from the lands of your birth to the lawns of Monticello."
Monticello is built on a hilltop, surrounded by the beautiful, green Virginia mountains. Although the day was cloudy, the mood was festive. The new citizens sat in rows of chairs facing the portico of Jefferson's house and the small group of dignitaries gathered there. Behind them sat their relatives, friends, and other well-wishers. Boy scouts in uniform distributed little American flags, and soon the entire lawn was dotted with stars and stripes. Secretary of State Madeline Albright spoke of the contribution that immigrants make to American life.
"Decade after decade, the United States has been enriched by the steady flow of mind and muscle, culture and creativity that America's promise has attracted to our shores. And today, we see the contributions of immigrants everywhere in the vitality of our neighborhoods, the health of our economy, the strength of our democracy and the enduring miracle of our unity."
The new Americans who took the oath of citizenship on the steps of Monticello, promising to renounce all allegiance to any foreign government and to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States, were as diverse as America itself. They came dressed in saris and business suits, jeans and kurta pajamas. They included an Indian doctor from Kenya, a baker from Mexico, a Chinese biologist, a Bolivian fisherman, an Iranian computer specialist. Addressing the newly minted American citizens, Judge James Michael of the U.S. District Court spoke to them of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.
"As to privileges, there is, of course, the right to speak freely about matters of importance, taking whatever position your intellect and common sense commends itself to you. There is the freedom to travel unrestricted in this great land. You'll have the right to participate fully in the electoral process, in our judicial system as a juror, and in so many other ways. But along with those privileges come responsibilities. Foremost is a duty, a duty, to live a law-abiding life. There is also a duty to participate fully in your communities."
The judge's appeal to the new citizens to participate in the political life of this country fell on receptive ears. For many of the participants in the naturalization ceremony, the right to vote, and to speak out, was a compelling reason for applying for citizenship. John Kamara, for instance, a 40-year-old from Sierra Leone, said he wanted to become a citizen so he could vote.
"Well, my main motive is for me to vote. I want to have the right to have my own say to the government. That's why, mainly, I'm happy to be an American citizen."
Next week on New American Voices you'll hear what other participants in the Monticello ceremony said about their reasons for becoming American citizens, and what they like - and don't like - about this country.