HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — The sunlit greenery and flowing rivers in historic Harpers Ferry created a picturesque backdrop for a tearful and patriotic ceremony on Thursday, celebrating and welcoming 25 new U.S. citizens from 16 different countries.
Rebecca Harriett, superintendent at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, said Harpers Ferry is the perfect place to hold a naturalization ceremony because new citizens who took the oath of allegiance will also inherit parks across the country.
“These new citizens, just like all of us who were born here, have inherited these public lands, so I want them to know that, as new citizens, they are being given 84 million acres of patrimony that is now theirs,” Harriett said. “I want them to come and enjoy, learn and advocate, and be stewards of these beautiful places.”
During the ceremony, the citizenship candidates were administered their oaths of allegiance, as well as presented with their certificates of citizenship to a crowd of over 100.
THE ULTIMATE MILESTONE
For Zimbabwe natives Jona and Fungisayi Masiya, gaining their citizenship together as husband and wife during the Thursday ceremony is representative of the ultimate milestone.
“This marks the beginning of everything. America is a land of opportunity, and the sky is the limit here,” Fungisayi said. “You just have to dream and continue dreaming, and you can fulfill it in America. We still have to continue working hard and being proud to be Americans. We’re definitely proud.”
Jona echoed Fungisayi’s sentiments.
“We wanted to make sure we fulfill our ultimate choice of being citizens of the United States and also making sure we contribute to the facets of democracy in the United States,” Jona said. “(The ceremony) was so exciting. The three words ‘we the people,’ they just got me. I felt like there was no other oath so important, besides the one I did when I married my wife, and now, this is the last important one.”
Ruth Madison, a longtime friend of the Masiyas who now lives in Winchester, Virginia, said the ceremony brought tears of joy to her eyes.
“This was my first ceremony, and I know for Americans, it’s so powerful. It is just a testament to the beauty of America. The strength, really, of us is diversity,” Madison said. “We are still one of the few countries, I think, that openly welcomes people from other countries to bring their ideas, their strengths and their values to continue keeping our democracy vibrant, keeping us honest and remaining the best country in the world. For me, it’s remarkable. I don’t have enough superlatives to say how I feel today. I’m just excited.”
‘WHAT’S MY STAKE IN THIS?’
While becoming U.S. citizens is an achievement at any time, 2016 being an election year brings additional responsibilities with what it means to be an American, and Jona and Fungisayi say they have been keeping up with the current political climate.
“The politics in America, they are a little weird this year. I follow politics a lot. What’s going on here is a little bit of a reminder of the things, the language and the harshness, that I ran away from. I have heard name-calling, I have heard all kinds of dirty tricks, and I think it should be about issues,” Jona said. “It should be about the American people, jobs and opportunities. As an immigrant, I’m wondering what’s my stake in this? We want to hear about the opportunities, so it’s a little concerning, to say the least.”
Fungisayi agreed with Jona.
“Most of the issues are being addressed, but not to what we were expecting. We want it to be more about what you are going to offer as a president, what you are going to do for the people, for the world, because everyone is looking at America,” Fungisayi said. “When you are giving speeches, our children are watching. The big thing is, ‘what are they learning from you?’ Show us, demonstrate before you go on the stage.”
Fungisayi and Jona said they are happy living in Inwood with their two sons, ages 9 and 13, but they hope to continue moving onward.
“With God’s blessings, we’ll continue to rise to the top because we are not limited by anything,” Fungisayi said.
A STRONG TRADITION
New citizens welcomed Thursday originate from countries including Cameroon, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Ireland, Jamaica, Mexico, People’s Republic of China, Peru, Philippines, Tanzania, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
Susan Arroyo, chief of staff at service center operations for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, welcomed the new citizens with a choked-up message of unity.
“The 25 of you today have come from 16 countries, but you represent the United States of America,” Arroyo said. “We have a strong tradition as a welcoming nation, and our efforts to welcome immigrants ensure that the United States continues to draw people from across the world who choose to settle here and contribute in important and innovative ways. (Citizenship) is about the ideas and the values that move this great nation forward.”
Crystal Brown, USCIS Pittsburgh immigration services officer; Michael Horvath, USCIS Pittsburgh field office director; Denise Ryan deputy director of the national park service; Mary Jo Brown, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Catherine Mary Halvey Goodwin, a new U.S. citizen from Ireland, also spoke during the Thursday ceremony.
“America, in all our visions and hearts, was a place that helped my people survive, and gratitude is my deepest emotion today,” Goodwin said.
The ceremony was also strategically held on the date coinciding with the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary.
For more information on the qualifications and procedures it takes to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, visit uscis.gov.
Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931 ext. 132 or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.