The Fourth of July weekend kicked off Friday morning (July 3) with 50 new citizens taking the Oath of Allegiance at the National World War II Museum. Among them was Abraham Martinez, 25, who packed into a van with the 13 other Navy men who had come Friday morning from their base in Gulfport, Miss., to support him.
“It is like the best country in the world to be a part of,” said Martinez, expressing his joy after the ceremony, before he and the others jumped back into the van to Gulfport for duty. “And, it opens up a lot of opportunities in civilian life and in the military.”
Originally from Mexico, Martinez had been living in Gainesville, Ga., before joining the Navy in January.
“We came to support our fellow airman,” said Adam Stitt, 19, of Pittsburgh, Penn.
“One team! One fight!” Sitt and others cried in unison.
Last year, about 2,500 people were made U.S. citizens in New Orleans, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Sharon Scheidhauer. On Friday, under the museum’s enormous, hanging World War II B-17 bomber, ” My Gal Sal,” people from 31 different countries waved miniature American flags, as they and their supporters teared up, held children, smiled and shot reams of photos and videos to remember the occasion.
“You all are now part of this great American gumbo,” said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ New Orleans Field Office Director Stan Crockett . “And you know what happens with a gumbo when you add a little of this and little of that, it just tastes better.”
Of all the participants Friday morning, Stephen Watson perhaps felt the most at home.
As the National World War II Museum’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, he’s seen the annual Fourth of July ceremony several times before.
Originally from Scotland, he came to Louisiana to run track for Nicholls State University, ended up marrying a Baton Rouge woman, and they now have made a home, with their two children, in New Orleans.
“I love this country,” said Watson, 40, who was sporting an American-flag tie. “I have spent more than half of my life here and my kids were born here and when you work at a museum like the National World War II Museum, every day you are reminded of what makes this country great and what makes this such a unique and special place in the world.”
Speaking to the crowd gathered there, he described first coming to Thibodaux from his family’s farm near Brechin, where he would pick raspberries in the summer and run in the dead of winter.
He recalled that “journey down Bayou Lafourche” and “the first hit of Louisiana humidity.”
“I really fell in love with south Louisiana almost immediately,” Watson said. “I can’t tell you exactly when I decided that I wanted to spend my whole life here, but I’ve known for quite a while.
“Here, today and in this museum every day, we celebrate the defense of freedom and democracy, the citizen and the citizen-solider.”
The 50 new citizens Friday in New Orleans originated from 31 countries: Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom and Vietnam.
In New Orleans, nearly 6 percent of the city’s about 380,000-person population were immigrants in 2013, compared to about 4 percent of Louisiana as a whole, according toU.S. Census estimates. And of Louisiana’s immigrant population, about 42 percent – or about 76,000 people – were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2013, according to the American Immigration Council.
Each year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services celebrates the 4th of July with a week of naturalization ceremonies across the country. And this year, for the nation’s 239th birthday, it is welcoming more than 4,000 new citizens in more than 50 Independence Day-themed naturalization ceremonies between July 1 and 4, the agency said.
In addition to the National WWII Museum, citizenship candidates are taking the Oath of Allegiance at historic sites such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the USS Midway in San Diego.