New faces from different places
From left, Coumba Ba, Abid Hasib Basic, and Kaplana Sharma Ghmire stand for the National Anthem during a March 23 naturalization ceremony at The Grammar School in Putney.

New faces from different places

Twenty new U.S. citizens take Oath of Allegiance in naturalization ceremony

PUTNEY — “Are you ready to withdraw loyalty [to your country]...” were some of the initial words spoken by the Honorable Colleen A. Brown, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, just before she administered an Oath of Allegiance to twenty new U.S. citizens.

The group of newly established Vermonters had assembled on stage at The Grammar School in Putney for their Naturalization Ceremony. They represented 15 countries - Bhutan, Bosnia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Moldova, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sweden, the U.K., Vietnam, and Yemen - and ranged from 18 to 68 years old.

Papers shuffled, audience members shifted to make room for one another, and a procession of Grammar School students entered the room casually, but with a subtle diplomacy. They took their seats along with other families, faculty members, press, and curious observers.

Silence eventually settled throughout the room. Then the ceremony began, as the school's humble auditorium was transformed into a federal court.

After the the 4th-6th grade chorus sang the National Anthem, Head of School Nick Perry offered a welcome speech to the audience.

Part of the journey

He explained that the setting was chosen in large part because students have been learning a curriculum devoted to immigration and migration, even as a national controversy has arisen over notions of foreignness and inclusion under a new administration in Washington.

“Underscoring the importance of our own roles as global citizens and our place in the global community,” Perry said, “every year at the Grammar School, we embed in our curriculum issues of global significance.” Perry ended his remarks by expressing gratitude and pleasure to be, “a part of [the new citizens'] journeys.”

In her remarks to the soon-to-be citizens, and the audience, Judge Brown said that “by welcoming and integrating people from around the world, the U.S. has become the vibrant country it is today.”

The nation, she said, “is like a collage. When we put all of the pieces together, the whole is much bigger than the sum of its parts. We cannot have the U.S. without its ethnic, social, religious, and cultural diversity. By becoming U.S, citizens, you are helping to enrich the US. And for that we are very grateful.”

It was Judge Brown who administered the Oath:

“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.”

Music and maple syrup

After the oath, the new citizens went up one by one to receive their certificate of citizenship. Students from the school also presented each of them with a small bottle of a venerable Vermont treat - maple syrup - and a letter of welcome from Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

One of the new citizens, William (WiLo) Rodriguez, sat in with the school chorus, led by Peter Siegel, to accompany the young singers on Power and Glory by Phil Ochs.

A few days after the ceremony, Rodriguez participated in an interview. He said the ceremony “made me emotional. Happy. Sad. Confused. Now I don't feel anything. Now I feel in shock.”

Rodriguez has been in the U.S. since October 2010. He has settled in West Brattleboro after living in Miami, Fla., and Bellows Falls. Currently, he teaches music and percussion at Holyoke Community Charter School in Massachusetts.

He said his most cherished time in the U.S. was the past year, despite the contentious political climate.

“I planted the seed [in the U.S., after some years], and finally I saw my fruit,” he said. His daughter, too, was finally able to join him in the U.S., which he credited to President Obama's successful tweaks to the immigration rules.

He explained that laughter has been the best way to cope with “problems that don't have solutions,” or less-important issues, relative to his prior struggles in Cuba - of “lack of food, lack of internet, or other resources ... [You had] to make your own resources.”

Now, he said, the fight is to “survive the present,” rather than think about the past or the future.

In her remarks at the ceremony, Judge Brown urged the new citizens “to develop and share your vision with your neighbors ... Talk with them about your perspective about what's going on, and tell them the stories you grew up with.”

Rodriguez chose not to speak about his views of the current political climate and its potential implications for himself and others, and said his hesitation derived from a pervasive fear throughout his home country of “sharing thoughts, feelings, opinions ... under Castro.”

At the ceremony, Judge Brown had reminded the audience that the U.S. “was formed in large measure by people who did not feel accepted or free to speak their own minds in their own country.”

But the final verse of Power and Glory - the song that Rodriguez drummed on after he became a U.S. citizen - set a reassuring tone:

“Our land is still troubled by men who have to hate We can stop them if we try.”

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