Newest citizens take oath on nation’s birthday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 5, 2000

The Associated Press


Wednesday, July 05, 2000

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – In business suits, saris and checked sundresses, 84 people from 27 countries stood on the steps of Monticello Tuesday and became United States citizens.

The new Americans who took the oath of citizenship during the annual Independence Day ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s home included a Bolivian fisherman, an educator from Pakistan and a Chinese biologist, among others.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who spoke at the ceremony, said they reminded her of the fears she felt when she came to the United States from Czechoslovakia at age 11.

”It never occurred to me that I would be secretary of state and have Thomas Jefferson’s job,” Albright told the crowd of about 1,500.

Elsewhere around the country there were parades, picnics, games and, of course, fireworks to mark the anniversary of America’s independence.

In New York, 150 tons of explosives fueled the nation’s most spectacular fireworks display.

The rockets’ red-white-and-blue glare exploded in an extravaganza that capped off OpSail 2000’s daytime parade of tall ships and naval vessels.

Pyrotechnics lit up the sky all around Manhattan’s edges, creating dramatic, fiery displays against the glamorous backdrop of the city skyline. ”I was thrilled,” said Betty Gatzke, visiting from New Orleans. ”It was colorful, noisy, it rocked my soul!”

In Boston, several hundred thousand showed up at the Esplanade along the Charles River Tuesday night for the traditional Boston Pops concert and fireworks display.

In cloudy Seattle, people were in jackets, carrying umbrellas.

”Generally, summer doesn’t usually start around here until July 12,” said Kirsten Willman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

”It was like 85 last week, but you can’t let the weather get you down around here,” said Kevin Jackson, 35, of Seattle.

Blowing conch shell horns, about two dozen Native Hawaiians and their supporters gathered where American colonists threw British tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773 to protest colonial rule. The Hawaiians threw garlands of the Hawaiian plant Ti – also pronounced ”tea” – into the harbor.

The group hoped to draw attention to the United States’ 1893 takeover of the eleven Hawaiian Islands.

”It will take a little while for people to understand our situation in Hawaii, but it’s got to start somewhere,” said activist John ”Butch” Kekahu.

In Irving, Texas, every house in the University Hills neighborhood had at least one flag on its lawn after neighbors pitched in to buy 1,000 flags. The neighbors’ efforts reward the longtime ritual of Nell Anne Hunt, who for years has planted her own flags in as many neighbors’ yards as she can.

”We are so lucky to be born in this country at this time in history,” said Hunt, who last year planted 450 flags by herself on neighbors’ lawns. ”It’s good to remember that, at least on the Fourth of July.”

Back at Monticello, the citizenship ceremony was the final step in a lengthy naturalization process.

”This is very special. All my other encounters have been in dingy offices with gruff immigration officers,” said Zohra Siddiqui, 58, as she looked across the manicured lawn of the Jefferson estate.

Siddiqui, a former boys’ school principal, said she came to the United States from Pakistan eight years ago to be closer to her son and daughter.

Kannan Selvaratnam, 30, was looking for acceptance and peace.

”Today is extraordinary,” said Selvaratnam, who fled Sri Lanka in 1983 when ethnic fighting destroyed his village. Selvaratnam, who works at a New York advertising agency, said his family scattered to different countries for safety.

It’s difficult being exiled from a place where you have so many emotional ties, he said.

”But this means we really can triumph one day,” he said, a small American flag poking from his coat pocket.