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Guest Commentary

July 12, 2012
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Citizenship ceremony

By Ken Fuson

Twenty-eight men and women became U.S. Citizens in a ceremonial session held at Principal Park on the Fourth of July. Photo by Ryan Riley, Iowa Cubs

On the Fourth of July, I headed over to Principal Park to watch the Iowa Cubs take on the Omaha Storm Chasers.

Baseball, hot dogs and fireworks. Can there be a better way to celebrate the nation’s independence?

Oh, yes.

About 20 minutes before game time, 28 men and women formed a line in front of the I-Cubs dugout on the third base side of the field. They were dressed in their Sunday best and held tiny American flags.

They were about to become U.S. citizens, witnessed by 11,950 people.

“All rise,” demanded Mike Messina, a judicial assistant. “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa is now in special ceremonial session for purpose of naturalization.”

This is the fourth year that the Iowa Cubs have hosted the swearing-in ceremony.

“This is the one night I agree we will start the game late,” said Michael Gartner, the principal owner.

The 28 men and women represented 18 countries, from Luxembourg to China, from Rwanda to Romania, from El Salvador to Ethiopa.

As they were introduced, their names and countries of origin appeared on the massive ballpark scoreboard. Each person waved and smiled even wider than those Cedar Rapids workers who recently won the Powerball lottery.

They raised their right hands. They agreed to renounce their allegiance and fidelity to the government of their former countries. They agreed to support and defend the constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

About the time you figured it couldn’t get any better, Senior District Judge Robert W. Pratt offered a civics lesson that should someday be chiseled in marble on a government building.

Wearing his black robe in 99-degree heat, Pratt said he realized it must have been difficult for the men and women to renounce their native lands.

“I wish to remind you that what you solemnly renounced in that oath is the allegiance to a government of another land. You did not renounce, nor should you ever renounce, the devotion that you carry in your heart for the people of your native land. Preserve that always.”

Judge Pratt encouraged the new citizens to master English, “but also preserve your native language and heritage and culture. Doing so enriches not only the lives of those in your family. Doing so also enriches America and all of us living here.

“For over 200 years, this country has been blessed with a constant infusion of new people from all over the world who brought their languages, their heritages and their cultural values with them. Just as we remain a nation of laws, so we must remain a nation of immigrants. Today, it is you who so bless us.”

He continued:

“You may hear voices in this land say there is only one true American religion. Do not believe it….

“You may hear voices in this land say there is only one true American way to think and believe about political matters, economic matters and social matters. Do not believe it….

“You may hear voices in this land say there is only one true American set of values. Do not believe it…. Simply stated, there is no single American way to think or believe. Indeed, conformity of thought and belief would be contrary to the underlying principles of this great nation.”

The ceremony ended with a taped message from President Obama, which appeared on the scoreboard.

One of the new citizens, John Wallace Grant of the United Kingdom, was chosen to represent the group by throwing out the first ceremonial pitch.

“I’d never had a baseball in my hand before,” he said. “I bought one over the weekend to try to find out if I could throw it.”

He fired a one-hopper to the plate, proving that the way home is not always a straight line.

The new Americans then joined their countrymen and women in a glorious and steamy evening of baseball, hot dogs and fireworks. I don’t remember the final score. Let’s just say everybody won. CV

Ken Fuson is a writer in the marketing department at Simpson College. He worked 24 years as a reporter for the Des Moines Register. This column was published in The N’West Iowa Review in Sheldon and is reprinted with permission from the writer.

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