June 17, 2021

ON BECOMING A CITIZEN


When Heather moved to Charlottesville in the mid-90s, Patrick and I met there for the Independence Day weekend.  She had learned about the Naturalization Ceremony held annually on July 4 at Monticello, the beautiful home of Thomas Jefferson.  Since 1963, each year immigrants from many countries chose to become United States citizens at this historic home of the author of the Declaration of Independence. It seemed very fitting.

That July 4 was a sweltering day (temperatures over 100 degrees) as we joined a large crowd on the lawn for the ceremony.  A band played an opening concert of patriotic songs, someone read from the Declaration of Independence, and the soon-to-be citizens began congregating near the front steps.  

The guest speaker was the Governor of Virginia, and joining him on the podium were the state’s elderly Supreme Court Justices—all wearing long black robes!  It seemed that several of the Justices were about to pass out from heat, so they took a short break before the naturalization ceremony—and those who returned, wisely had removed their robes.  It was very moving to see the families from various parts of the world eager to obtain their citizenship.  They had to qualify by completing various applications, interviews and an exam. This ceremony was the final step.

This is the Oath of Allegiance they take:

“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.”

A quarter of a century since that day, everything about United States citizenship seems much different. During this time, immigrants have not been as welcome or had the same access to citizenship.  Many of the stories long ignored or suppressed are finally being told, including those of the enslaved people at Monticello, especially one of them, Sally Hemings, with whom Thomas Jefferson had at least six children. These decades have brought protests and violent demonstrations—in Charlottesville and all across the country.  None seemed as horrifying and unbelievable as when mobs of armed citizens of the United States attacked the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.  I wonder how the people who took their oath of citizenship at Monticello that day are doing now.  I hope they still value their citizenship. 

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