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  • A Welcome for the Newest U.S. Citizens

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    On the morning of June 30, 2017, the United States gained a new crop of citizens with the first of two Citizenship Ceremonies administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on the National Mall during the Folklife Festival, in collaboration with the National Museum of American History. Acclaimed seventh-generation ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams served as the keynote speaker, with additional remarks by Imperial OPA Circus ringmaster Timothy Mack and USCIS officials Rebecca Sheehy and Kimberly Zanotti.

    “You folks go out and pursue your happiness, because you’re as free as you can be in this country now that you’re a citizen,” Adams encouraged.     

    The twenty-five new citizens, ranging in age for five to thirteen, hailed from seventeen different countries, including Bolivia, Zimbabwe, and Uzbekistan. The littlest ones sat in folding chairs at the front of the Ralph Rinzler Stage with their feet dangling above the floor. Some were dressed in shorts and T-shirts, while others dressed more formally despite the heat of the day. One boy even wore a tuxedo shirt and trousers. The children held small American flags, waving them throughout the ceremony in celebration of their new nationality.

    When it was time for the children to receive their certificates, they hopped off their chairs and stepped forward to receive their certificates of citizenship from Mack. With every name called came cheers from the audience—not just the families of the new citizens but also the general public who came to witness this special moment.

    “You are, really, the future of America,” Mack proclaimed.

    Although the youngest children might not yet be able to fully understand what an important day this is, the older children beamed as they shook hands and posed for photos with Mack, Adams, Sheehy, and Zanotti. Their parents beamed as well, some crying as they snapped photos. The ceremony was just as much for the parents as for the children, as it represented new chances for all of the families to realize their dreams and make new lives for themselves. Bystanders were also emotional, and many wiped their eyes as they watched the ceremony.

    Among the audience members were Martin and Kelly Allen from Ohio; it was Martin Allen’s first time at the Folklife Festival since 1974. They gushed about the pride they felt seeing the ceremony, and how happy they were to have attended. Watching the ceremony made them proud of their country, they said, and they hoped that the children and their families would find success and happiness in America.

    “To see all these immigrants here, all these families, is wonderful,” Martin Allen reflected. “I wish everyone in the country could see this.”

    Another Citizenship Ceremony is scheduled for Friday, July 7, at 11 a.m. Join us to welcome and congratulate the newest United States citizens in our nation’s capital.

    Julia Berley is an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is a rising junior at Emory College of Emory University, double majoring in history and psychology.

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