The Fourth of July weekend is a special time for Americans, with barbecues and fireworks in full effect across the country, commemorating the independence of our nation.
But for many residents, the holiday weekend holds a particularly special significance.
On Friday, National Guard member Paola Sánchez was one of 35 immigrants who were sworn in as United States citizens in a ceremony held at the historic Fraunces Tavern Museum in Manhattan’s Financial District in honor of Independence Day.
A third of the new United States citizens were Latinos.
“I am so grateful to this country because it helped give me a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have in my country,” said Sánchez, who emigrated from Colombia five years ago to study English, and who is expecting twin girls. “So it is very important to me to be an American.”
The journey to becoming a United States citizen was not easy for her. Sánchez, 26, was unable to complete the naturalization process in basic training, as is the norm, because of, among other issues, her pregnancy.
Sánchez said she is especially honored that her daughters will be born United States citizens because “that means that they are going to have all the opportunities that I didn’t have when I was in my country.”
Sánchez was one of five members of the U.S. military who were among the 35 newly sworn citizens. Legal permanent residents, often called “green card holders,” have a long tradition of serving in the U.S. military. About 17,000 so-called “green card soldiers” are in active duty.
The 35 new citizens ranged in age from 18 to 57, and hailed from the following 18 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, The People’s Republic of China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Lebanon, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, St. Kitts-Nevis, United Kingdom, and Venezuela.
More than 24,000 immigrants were slated to become U.S. citizens at approximately 350 ceremonies held across the country and around the world from June 27 to July 4, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Along with Sánchez, Iván Saragusti, an Argentinian immigrant, took the oath of citizenship in Manhattan.
Saragusti, 21, has been in this country almost 11 years, saying he originally came to seek opportunity and pursue a happier, safer life.
He is grateful to the United States for this opportunity, and said he is excited to be able to play a role in democracy, and “vote, hopefully, for President Obama’s second term.”
He decided to pursue citizenship to “ assume responsibility for a country that’s provided many good things for me, and I also love the opportunity to be part of such a country.”
Saragusti said he was intrigued by the ceremony.
“It’s a very special moment,” he said, “for anyone who has the opportunity to take part in such a ceremony, and quite rewarding.”
Nearly eight million of the estimated 12.5 million legal permanent residents living in the United States are eligible to file for naturalization, according to the most recent Department of Homeland Security analysis. In May, the USCIS unveiled a federal initiative to raise awareness about the rights, responsibilities and importance of U.S. citizenship.
Friday’s ceremony was an emotional one, as naturalization events tend to be. It took place at the very same site where George Washington gave his famous farewell speech to his soldiers nine days after the British left American soil amid the triumphant revolution. Friday marked the first time a naturalization ceremony had been held at the historic landmark.
USCIS New York Director Andrea Quarantillo administered the Oath of Allegiance.
When the ceremony concluded, in less than hour after it began, Sánchez held her citizenship certificate, beaming with pride.
She planned to celebrate her first Fourth of July as a United States citizen by travelling to Connecticut with her husband to visit family.
“I love the army, I love America, I’m just grateful," she said.
E.J. Aguado Jr. is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.