The middle-aged man looked around the crowded room--a sea of faces hiding oceans of tyranny, deprivation, hunger and pain buried deep in their guts. All had different stories that brought them here, but their expressions held the same steely resolve.
Ramonuv wiped his sweaty palms on the sleeves of the borrowed overcoat. Were they all as nervous as he? A whispered question here, an animated conversation behind him, or a broad smile over there tended to show the opposite. He knew, though, how one could mask deepest feelings behind walls, some nearly as impenetrable as a deeply-grounded ice burg anchored by years of struggling formation.
A reverent hush began in the back of the courtroom where the United States flag was solemnly paraded down the center aisle by uniformed veterans; its red, white and blue furled folds hope’s blessing.
Ramonuv’s unashamed tears as he saluted the icon were not the only ones. Like a row of collapsing dominoes, people’s heads bowed as the ceremony’s invocation began, each individual thanking their God for this privilege. For it was this hour that the culmination of years of requirements, classes and paperwork finally was awarding them the rights of adopted sons and daughters.
Noble words like “freedom,” “justice,” “opportunity,” and “human dignity” laced successive speakers’ speeches. Ramonuv and many others had been born under a foreign rule with memories of another way of life, leaving behind homes, families and all that was familiar because they believed that democracy would give them and their children these cherished rights. He focused his attention on each word, mentally translating the words into his native tongue. Platitudes mouthed, bold patriotic nuances firmly espoused in each speaker’s thoughts. Ramonuv repeated to himself a quotation authored by a Peter Marshall:
“But we who have taken that solemn oath of naturalization have the privilege of helping our foster mother to become as great as she is strong, and as good as she is great . . .”
Humbled, Ramonuv wished he had more to offer in homage to this, his adopted nation, this United States of America. He was just an ordinary man trying to escape the bitterness, intolerance and oppression of his past life, while many other immigrants brought talents in fields of science, music and art as their contributions to build and renew and enrich this great nation.
“I am just simple Ramonuv, a little man. But I promise to honor this country with courage and hope and responsibility. I have little else to offer. But I believe in your Bill of Rights, a glorious possession of United States of America. Truly, to worship my own way, to work hard and have a vote—these things cost many others suffering and sacrifice. I, and many others here have come from countries run by dictators who are only interested in building empires for personal riches and destroy liberty and freedom.”
“You have a passionate heart, my friend, and I surmise you are ready to dedicate yourself, your enthusiasm and even your blood to this beloved land,” the judge remarked, “each of you makes his own contribution to build, renew and enrich this great nation to make it the inspiration of liberty-loving and oppressed peoples everywhere.”
An awed Ramonuv sat back down, hat on his lap, while each of the other immigrants took their turns. Each had their own story, some spoken in broken English, but all ready to take this final step to receive their certificates of naturalization. The oath of allegiance was then administered by the court clerk:
“Repeat after me:”
“I declare, on oath that I, Ramonuv Schlovinsky, (I declare, on oath that I, Ramonuv Schlovinsky)
absolutely and entirely renounce all allegiance and fidelity (absolutely and entirely renounce all allegiance and fidelity)
to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty (to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty)
of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; (of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen)
That I will support and defend (That I will support and defend)
the Constitution and laws of the United States of America (the Constitution and laws of the United States of America). . .”
Each alien repeated the same oath, entering into the fraternity of citizenship into the United States, carrying away with them cherished certificates of naturalization, along with a copy of the Bill of Rights and a miniature American flag.
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