As a new U.S. citizen, Maria Burke cannot wait to vote, but she realizes that the rest of her family is not so lucky. Burke came to the United States as a child, more than 30 years ago. But even as Burke embraces her new citizenship, she recognizes that some of her family are still struggling to become citizens.
“We had lots of different troubles getting citizenship,” Burke said. “After 9/11, we were not able to do anything because of security.”
Burke was one of 39 new citizens to take the Oath of Allegiance on Wednesday at the Historic Hangar at Pearson Air Museum. The new citizens represented 19 countries, from Canada and Mexico to Cambodia and South Korea.
In a time of conflict over immigration and border policy, not everyone wanted to talk about their journey to citizenship. One person said: “There are people that don’t want us here,” and that was enough reason not to make a public announcement of becoming a citizen.
Jalilah Alzeyadi was there with her husband, Aly Alzeyadi, whom she has known her whole life. They are both from Yemen. “Happy” is how she said she felt about becoming a citizen. Aly Alzeyadi said the process has been stressful and that having his wife become a citizen is “big-time relief.”
As family and friends started to settle into their seats, small children bounced around to “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The live music was provided by The Vancouver Community Band, under the direction of Erin Hanson.
Speaker Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, said the National Park Service has been hosting naturalization ceremonies at the museum for 10 years.
“I am honored to be here with you today on this momentous occasion,” Fortmann said. “To be gathered here today, the day before the Fourth of July. An auspicious day. Tomorrow you will be celebrating Independence Day as American citizens.
“I understand the tremendous effort you have all gone through to be here. Each of you took your own journey,” said Fortmann. “In all cases, the path to becoming a citizen of the United States is one that requires dedication, commitment, courage and endurance.”
“You can’t see it from there, but I have tears in my eyes,” said Karen Hengerer, the keynote speaker, as she began to address the crowd. “I’m so proud of you.”
She said she was in awe of people who can come to a different country and do all that needs to be done, such as learn a new language and find out how things really work.
Hengerer, who helps immigrants study for their citizenship exam, said: “You have prevailed.
“You have already contributed to our community by participating and by learning to overcome your anxieties in order to be here today, and you’ve already contributed to our community and our nation by bringing us all that energy and all that drive.”
Then the new citizens raised their right hands and spoke together.
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
When done reciting, the group waived small American flags while friends and family clapped and cheered the end of their journey to citizenship.