By Rich Bockmann
Celidez Arvelo was choked with emotion Monday when after 11 years in this country she could finally call herself an American citizen.
“You change your life forever. [When I came to America,] I only wanted to pass through and stay a while,” the immigrant from the Dominican Republic said. “I love America and I want to be here forever.”
Arvelo was one of 75 candidates from 19 countries who took the Oath of Allegiance at Jamaica’s King Manor Museum Sept. 17, 225 years after the building’s namesake signed the Declaration of Independence.
Before administering the oath, Federal Judge Margo Broadie, of the Eastern District, told the soon-to-be citizens about how she took the oath after immigrating to the country with her parents from the Caribbean.
“I never envisioned that at some point in my life I’d be a judge and administering this oath,” she said. “I welcome you to this wonderful country of ours and now it’s your country, too.”
“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,” Quasay Cooper read along with naturalization candidates from countries such as Bangladesh, Jamaica and Guyana.
“That I will defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” the chorus of voices affirmed in unison.
In 1952, President Harry Truman proclaimed Sept. 17 to be Citizenship Day in recognition of those who either by coming of age or through naturalization have attained full citizenship. And while on any other day many candidates become naturalized at their local post office, King Manor Museum Caretaker Roy Fox said the home of one of the 39 signers of the Constitution would make their day that much more memorable.
“What an example Sen. Rufus King sets for us,” he said as he explained the pivotal role King played as one of five men asked to compose the style and arrangement of the Constitution and how 33 years later he made an impassioned address to the U.S. Senate renouncing slavery.
“‘I hold that all laws or compacts imposing any such condition as slavery upon any human being are absolutely void because they are contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God,’” Fox said, quoting the New York senator. “Do for future generations what has been done for us.”
The naturalization ceremony was the brainchild of U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), who said that as new citizens the attendees had a duty to make the country a better place.
“You bring your experiences. You bring your knowledge and you bring your culture,” he said. “It is a better day for the United States of America that you will become one of its citizens.”
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said the home he grew up in with his Jamaican parents was a sort of way station for immigrants coming to the country and becoming naturalized. Watching his parents mentor prospective citizens and helping to fill out naturalization forms, he said, played an integral part in shaping his life.
“I got involved with government because when I looked at government I didn’t see me,” he said as he urged the new citizens to become active in shaping their communities.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.