MANCHESTER - Fifty people became America’s latest citizens Thursday morning, in a ceremony that featured singing, American flag-waving and a 6-year-old oratorical contest winner leading the Pledge of Allegiance minutes before his father became an American citizen.
About 150 people attended the ceremony celebrating citizenship at the Currier Museum of Art.
Receiving one of the loudest rounds of applause was Kai Sierra, a 6-year-old who attends St. Patrick School in Pelham where he won an oratorical contest, skills he used yesterday to lead the crowd of mainly adults in the Pledge of Allegiance. Proud papa Jose Sierra, a native of the Philippines, was one of those applauding the loudest.
Leah Fox, the museum’s director of interpretation & audience engagement, gave welcoming remarks, talking about her grandfather on her mother’s side of the family who came to the U.S. when he was 18 from Ottoman Syria, now Lebanon. He would later enlist in the U.S. Army during World War II. Her grandfather on her father’s side of the family arrived from Germany in 1925 to live with his cousins.
They came, she said, to create better lives for their families, not unlike those becoming citizens yesterday. She said each of the 50 New Hampshire citizens, representing 31 different nations and who live in 20 different communities across the state, have their own personal stories “but your lives here in America as U.S. citizens start here and now at the museum.”
Susan Strickler, the museum’s director and CEO, said it was a deep honor for the museum, which celebrates art from different cultures, to host the naturalization ceremony. The new citizens, their families and friends were invited to tour the museum and take in the featured exhibit: Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.
Bearden, she said, was born in 1911 in North Carolinea and was part of the great migration of African-Americans from the rural south to to the urban North.
Bearden was part of a seminal art movement in the U.S. that for the first time portrayed the experiences of African-Americans. The exhibit features colorful collages and watercolors and tell Homer’s ancient tale, “The Odyssey”, but in Bearden’s version the Greek hero Ulysses and all of the characters are black.
Bearden’s works, she said, are inspirational and relevant today because “The Odyssey” is about Ulysses’ 10-year journey to find a home and a place in the world.
“For so many reasons, you have chosen to find your home here in the United States of America,” she said. “On behalf of the Currier, welcome to your new home.”
Among those becoming U.S. citizens was Jared Ombati, 19, of Manchester, who came to this country with his mother, father and two brothers when he was eight years old . Ombati, who was graduated from Manchester Memorial High School and is now a student at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., majoring in administration of justice, said it was a difficult transition coming from Kenya.
Although he already spoke English at the time, he said it was difficult leaving the other 55 members of his extended family behind.
His father, he said, had a harder time because he immigrated to America two years earlier before the rest of the family and was alone. He established himself, finding work and a home, and then his wife and three sons came over to join him.
The patriotic ceremony opened with the presentation of colors by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Color Guard followed by the National Anthem sung by Hailey Moll of the Manchester Community Music School.
Anthony Violanti, director of the Manchester Field Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, administered the “Oath of Allegiance,” after which the new citizens recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
President Obama also made an appearance, via a video, in which he told them it was an honor and privilege to call them citizens of the United States.
And, in what has become a standard for every naturalization ceremony, a music video of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” was played, bringing nearly all the new citizens to their feet, singing along and waving small America flags in time to the music.
The citizens originated from 31 countries including Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Czech Republic, People’s Republic of China, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Germany, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Laos, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom and Vietnam.