<< The Body Politic

Celebrating new citizens on July 4

Monday, July 9th, 2012

As Americans return to work after a weekend of July 4 celebrations and fireworks, it’s a good time to remember the freedoms that we celebrate on Independence Day–and a good way to do this is to look at some stories of immigrants who recently became American citizens.

Over at CNN, Rachel Rodriguez covered a July 4 naturalization ceremony in Atlanta and interviewed some of the new citizens on why they wanted to become Americans:

As big days go, this is one of the biggest. All these people are about to become citizens of the United States. They’ll gain the right to vote, to work certain jobs, to serve on a jury and to run for office. In about an hour, at the end of their citizenship ceremony in Atlanta, they’ll officially be American by choice.

Jutka Emoke Barabas remembers that jittery feeling well. She was naturalized in 2000 in Honolulu, where she still lives, and is one of several CNN iReporters who spoke about why they chose to become American citizens. “Everyone arrived too early and we found ourselves standing and waiting, hardly able to contain our excitement,” she said. “Everyone seemed to speak at the same time as they shared their stories with one another.” There was a soldier from Cambodia, and Emoke Barabas herself, a political refugee from Hungary.

As a writer with dissenting views, Emoke Barabas said she had been thrown in a Romanian prison under former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Her father showed her a photo of the Statue of Liberty, telling her, “This is the place where freedom lives.” After her release, she said she made it to Switzerland and, eventually, to the United States in 1990. Ten years later, she became a U.S. citizen.

“For me, American citizenship means freedom of expression and to live and work in a free country … and not have to be afraid of being arrested or harassed because of owning certain common books or pictures,” said Emoke Barabas. She also feels a sense of responsibility to her adopted country. “To be an American is not just a great honor, but also an obligation to do more and reach higher.”


Three officials approach the podium and the ceremony begins. Lights are dimmed, and the audience rises as a recording of the national anthem comes over the speakers.

The officials say 54 countries are represented in today’s naturalization ceremony. They list each one, asking the people from said country to rise, and every nationality mentioned is met with applause. Brazil, Ghana, Iran and South Korea get the loudest cheers. Everyone is standing now, all their countries’ names having been listed.

The time has come. “Ladies and gentlemen, please raise your right hand.”

Cameras flash, phones shoot video. Friends and family of the naturalization candidates surround them in the room, capturing the oath of citizenship. They finally finish the lengthy oath and there are claps and cheers. They are now Americans, citizens of the United States. Many are holding and waving their little American flags. Now it’s time to say the Pledge of Allegiance. They stand with their hands over their hearts and face the flag.

“Pledging allegiance to the flag was one of the proudest moments of my life,” remembers Stephen Park, who attended his own naturalization ceremony in 2005. Originally from Scotland, he moved to the States to be with his wife, who is from Chicago. The pair met online and decided to build their new life together in the United States.

Park had a green card, “but that wasn’t enough for me,” he decided. “I believe strongly in the Constitution of this country and just having the right to work here wasn’t enough. I wanted the right to vote and I wanted the right to call myself American.”

“No other country gives you the right to pursue happiness, and that is the right that I have grabbed firmly with both hands,” Park said. “A lot of people complain about this country … but try living elsewhere without all the rights that you take for granted. In some ways, we immigrants are the lucky ones; we see more clearly the opportunities that this great nation affords all its people.”

And at NPR, Sean Carberry attended a naturalization ceremony held for 44 U.S. soldiers and Marines at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan:

Among those preparing to recite the oath was Griselda Murorodarte. The 21-year-old Army specialist was born in Mexico and grew up in California.

She said it’s important for her to become a U.S. citizen.

“I do wear the flag on my right shoulder, and I proudly wear it, and now I can proudly say I’m an American citizen,” she said.

When Murorodarte was 4, her mother took her and her sister to the U.S. to escape a bad family situation in southern Mexico. She said she owes everything to her mother because of all the sacrifices she made for her to be where she is today.

Murorodarte said she knew that joining the Army would allow her to get her citizenship more quickly, but the access to educational opportunities influenced her more. She’s not focused on any of that right now, though.

“Honestly, my mindset at the moment is duty,” she said. “Mission comes first, but this is a very special day for me and I’m always going to remember this.”

Read more of these stories here and here, and check out the short biographies of the soldiers whom President Obama swore in as citizens at a ceremony at the White House on July 4 here.