Politics & Government

‘A huge deal’: People from around the world become US citizens on the 4th of July

They came from all around the world: from Asia and Africa, Europe and South America, huge counties and island nations.

The 27 people who gathered at Charlotte’s Museum of History on Thursday took an oath of allegiance to another flag and became some of America’s newest citizens.

“It’s a huge deal for me,” said Vanessa Amabo, 26, a native of Cameroon who works as a research assistant at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

The 27 were among nearly 7,500 people taking part in naturalization ceremonies across the country this week, according to the Department of Homeland Security. New citizens took the oath at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh and more than 100 other sites.

In Charlotte, about 150 friends and family members joined the new citizens, holding small flags and watching a color guard in Revolutionary War uniforms march in to the sound of a beating drum.

Among the newly minted citizens was Gustavo Moreno of Charlotte, a native Colombian who manages a Japanese restaurant. He was joined by his wife and their two young daughters, who are all citizens.

“To me it’s one of the most important days ever, to become a citizen — especially on the 4th of July,” said Moreno.

Knowing US history

Becoming a citizen can be a rigorous process.

People must possess a green card for at least five years, be proficient in basic English, and show a knowledge of U.S. history and government by passing a quiz.

A sample question: Name one right only for United States citizens:

a) Attend public school,

b) Freedom of speech,

c) Freedom of religion

d) Run for federal office

(The answer is d.)

According to a 2018 survey, just one in three Americans would pass.

Some of Thursday’s new citizens waited much longer than the minimum five years.

Avri Beeri, 70, a native of Israel, has been in the U.S. for 34 years. But his citizenship pursuit was stymied by bureaucratic snags.

“After all the troubles I’ve gone through, it’s a feeling of relief,” he said after the ceremony.

‘A difficult time’

Brian Jones, a history professor at Johnson C. Smith University, welcomed the new citizens.

“You have followed your dream to become Americans,” he told them.

And he went on to say, “This is a difficult time for many of our citizens,” with the country so divided by politics. “Let the new Americans do better,” he said.

Swapnil Akunuri, a native of India, took that advice to heart. A 21-year-old engineering student, he said he’s ready for what he called “the great responsibility” of citizenship.

“It’s just an inspiration to me to keep on focusing on the unity part,” he said.

After taking their oath of allegiance, many of the new citizens immediately registered to vote at a table run by the local League of Women Voters.

“That’s my voice,” said Amabo, who registered as Unaffiliated. “I have to be heard.

Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.