One day last month in Staunton, the number of American citizens increased by 80.
One man from Iraq was one of those new citizens, swearing the oath of allegiance to the United States. WMRA’s Andrew Jenner was there, for Part Five of our series on “Becoming American."
[The Stonewall Brigade Band plays in the background]
A large crowd has turned out on this gorgeous September morning, under a pavilion at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton. As the Stonewall Brigade Band toots away, a few hundred schoolkids get swept up in the excitement, madly waving little flags as they chatter. An ROTC honor guard presents the colors, someone sings the national anthem, and then a U.S. marshal officially opens this special and particularly fun session of federal district court – a naturalization ceremony for 80 new American citizens.
Seated in the very front is a man named Aziz Aziz, who lived nearly all his life in Iraq.
AZIZ AZIZ: I was born in Baghdad. I spend my life in Baghdad.
Aziz was an engineer who spent his career trying to improve farm mechanization in his country – though looking back, it seems all for naught.
AZIZ: With the chaos, with the corruption, I couldn’t develop this project in a good way.
Iraq, he says, could be fabulously wealthy, but over the course of his lifetime, everything has been wasted, lost – including his sense of civic pride.
AZIZ: Citizenship means a good relationship between the citizens and the ruler, and this was lost. There is no secure life. There is no rights. There is no freedom. My country Iraq is the worst country in the world.
And so he and his family left Iraq in 2006, eventually settling in the United States in 2009. Gaining citizenship here in their adopted country is a major step toward making it their permanent home.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James Welsh, who presided over the ceremony, describes naturalization as one of this country’s most distinctive and invigorating characteristics.
JAMES WELSH: It’s what makes America truly a unique place that we have people from all over the world that have come here, cast their lot with us to become citizens and raise their children as part of this country.
Because the vast majority of Americans can trace their roots abroad within the past few centuries, the Frontier Culture Museum is a fitting location for all of this, says executive director John Avoli. [Note: please say his name with a little more emphasis, and a little more slowly to be clear.]
JOHN AVOLI: The museum is about immigrants. The original immigrants from Scotland and Ireland, England and Germany, and of course the enslaved African that was here, and these people came together somehow, and culturalized, intermarried, intermingled and they began to build America as we know it today.
And today in Staunton, 80 more immigrants have joined the cause.
AZIZ: It was dream, and today it became fact that I and my family, we are citizens of the United States.
It becomes official when Judge Welsh leads him and the others in their oath of citizenship, by which they publicly renounce prior allegiances and promise to support and defend the Constitution. And then, that’s that.
WELSH: So help me God.
NEW CITIZENS: So help me God.
WELSH: Ladies and gentlemen, join me in a round of applause for our new citizens.
[Applause from crowd; band begins to play]
The band strikes up another tune, the mob of schoolchildren resumes its manic flag waving, the Elks Lodge spreads out pizza for lunch, and a merry pandemonium breaks out as
the 80 brand new Americans seek out their families and friends in the audience for pictures, for handshakes and for hugs.