The stage was set. To the right stood a podium. In the center was a small folding table, draped with a black cloth cover. To the left, sat fifty empty folding chairs. Those chairs would soon be filled with fifty candidates for US citizenship. They would come from over 22 countries from around the world: Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Iraq and many more.
As the candidates climbed the stairs to take their seats, we spoke with some of the family members who were there to show love and support.
Hannah Coronado, proud wife of Francisco Coronado says what she feels most is relief.
“It’s a long process. It’s a big relief to finally be here. His parents are very happy for him. This is my birthday too, so it’s really a very special day for us. This is a wonderful birthday present.”
Hannah met her husband in Mexico, and says that her husband is very excited to finally become a citizen.
“He’s even wearing red, white and blue.”
The candidates stood, raised their right hands and took the oath of citizenship, pledging their allegiance to our country, the culmination of years of work and study, each candidate clutching a single carnation – some red, some white and some blue.
Several speakers were invited to speak at the ceremony, including Linda Lawson, Indiana State Representative, who spoke about patriotism.
“Patriotism is a word which is thrown around a lot. It is pride, it is passion, it is honor and devotion to our country. It provokes debate. It can be a very divisive word, but it can also be very uniting. To me, patriotism means love. Not just love of country, but love of people. To love America, is to love all Americans, and now, we have 50 new Americans.”
Janet Venecz, councilperson-at-large for the city of Hammond choked back tears as she spoke before the crowd, quoting from the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” said Venecz. “America isn’t easy. We often disagree. But in the end, we have freedom and the right to disagree, and no one can take that away from us. We have a duty to protect our freedom, our rights and privileges. It is because of our differences – not in spite of them – that we have become the greatest nation in the world today. It makes no difference if you are male or female… white or brown… young or old… you are welcome in these United States of America. Congratulations, and welcome to our new citizens.”
“Raymundo Garcia thinks that natural-born citizens take their rights for granted.
“We don’t think about it. We just grow up here. We take that for granted,” said Garcia. “These people worked hard to be here. This is something that they wanted, that they fought for. For these people, being an American citizen means something special.”
Karen Maravilla, President of the Hammond Downtown Council and partner of Raymundo Garcia agreed.
“This really gives you an appreciation for what we have here.”
As the ceremony ended to the cheers and applause of the family and friends, who were there to show support for their loved ones, people who were born in many other countries, but who now walked off the stage to begin the next chapter of their lives, as citizens of these United States of America.
And as the evening concluded and the band played in the background, some of those new citizens stood on the shores of Wolf Lake to watch the annual fireworks for the first time as citizens in their new home country.