A gathering of 52 children made history at The DoSeum Saturday morning, and as proud families looked on at the flag-waving children, the occasion will prove to be one that none of them ever forget. The 52 boys and girls, ages 5-17, became U.S. citizens on this day, each child collecting his or her citizenship certificate during a special U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ceremony, a first for San Antonio.
The welcome was special one, including a short video that featured President Obama congratulating the children, and urging them to use their newfound status and freedom to make a difference in their communities.
Afterwards, the children stood and recited the Oath of Allegiance :
“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.
Then they recited the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Then it was time for presentation of the certificates. One by one, as their names were called, the boys and girls moved from their seats alongside family members and walked up front to collect the written proof of their new status.
“For family members in attendance, the ceremony represented the final step in a long journey to U.S. citizenship for a son or daughter, a brother or sister. Charles D. Milliner, who was born in the United States but started his family in the Philippines, was proud to see his son Francis be recognized as a U.S. citizen.
“Everyone here must understand that an American citizen is truly a citizen of the world,” Milliner said.”Our responsibility is to make the world a better place for everyone.”
The room filled with waving American flags; parents beamed with pride as they took photos to document the moment their child was recognized as an American citizen. According to the Child Citizenship Act, children who receive a certificate of citizenship must be between five to 17 years old, and have at least one citizen parent.
The ceremony at the DoSeum was an extension of the museum’s partnership with DreamWeek San Antonio, 12 days of events promoting diversity, tolerance and equality.
“When you look at the diversity in this room and the diversity of this county– it’s beautiful,” said Mario Ortiz, director, USCIS San Antonio. “This is DreamWeek, and attaining citizenship is like a dream for many people. What better time than now to celebrate this special occasion?”
Keynote speakers, including Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, encouraged the young new citizens to attend the MLK March on Monday, and to take advantage of the city’s educational and cultural resources.
“This is an international city, just look around,” said Wolff. “I’m a great believer that great cities will be those that come together from many different ethnic groups, that work together to help build a better city.”
The children hailed from 22 different countries including Iraq, Pakistan, Jordan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Angelique Cilliers, 17, was among the eldest of the naturalized citizens recognized at the ceremony. Her father, Klaus, moved the family from South Africa to the United States for a job opportunity in 2001.
“Citizenship means an opportunity to get a good job,” said Cilliers. “I can do whatever I want, I can pursue what I feel.”
Cilliers is only a junior in high school, but already is researching potential colleges. She plans to pursue a degree in computer engineering or science.
“This opens doors and makes dreams come true,” said Sinthea Cilliers, her mother. “There are opportunities here that in South Africa we would have never had.”
Following the ceremony, children were invited to explore the DoSeum. The museum’s temporary DreamWeek exhibit allowed visitors to connect the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s with contemporary immigration and equal rights issues in the country.
“Even at a young age, kids can grasp the idea of fairness and they want people to get along,” said Cris Navarro, the DoSeum’s public programs & community partnership manager. “It’s important that the next generation understands how past events affect immigration and civil rights today. It’s our job to make sure that’s possible.”
*Top Image: Mariam Haitham Hamza and her brother Malik Haitham Hamza from Sudan were two of 52 children and young adults who received U.S. citizenship. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.