In their six years of marriage, Alfonso Tobar has never seen his wife cry.
Edith Sabillon came dangerously close to breaking her tradition of stoicism last week when she walked across the stage to accept her certificate – and her status as a full fledged American citizen – during Old Salem’s Naturalization Ceremony on July 4.
“She was just full of emotion because for her, it’s the start of a new dream and a new life,” said Tobar, a photographer.
Speaking through her daughter, Cynthia Monterrosa, Edith Sabillion, a native of Honduras, described the moment.
“It was very happy – emotional. I felt like my heart was going to come out of my chest,” she said. “I wanted to cry.”
Sabillon was one of 50 people from 28 nations around the world who became United States citizens during the ceremony, which was held for its third year at Old Salem on the Fourth of July. Salem – the historic town whose legacy Old Salem Museum and Gardens works to preserve – first celebrated Independence Day in 1783, just seven years after America declared its sovereignty from England. It is thought to be the site of the oldest Independence Day celebration nationwide.
“This is really fitting that Salem Square be the place and specifically Fourth of July be the day that we welcome these folks as new citizens,” declared Ragan Folan, Old Salem’s president and CEO. “…It’s a great day to be in this great town of Old Salem and a great day to be in America.”
Luis Lobo, executive vice president and multicultural banking manager for BB&T, served as keynote speaker. Lobo, who celebrated his own naturalization in Norfolk, Va. on Sept. 11, 2002, reminded the new Americans that citizenship is both a privilege and a responsibility.
“We chose to call America home; we chose to become Americans,” said the Costa Rica native. “It is our responsibility to become good citizens and good neighbors by giving back to our country with our time and talent.”
In addition to lending their unique attributes to the nation, Lobo told the new citizens they must also make their voices and opinions heard.
“Voting is your most significant responsibility as a new American – do not let anyone deter you from it,” he said. “We should never take for granted the right to work legally, to vote bravely and to live freely.”
Acknowledging the recession and troubling unemployment rates, Lobo said the United States is still a great nation to belong to.
“We have been able to overcome great struggles and difficulties since the founding of the republic,” he declared. “America is still the Land of Opportunity for those who have an open heart and a willing soul to work hard enough and strive long enough.”
Opportunity was what inspired Mamuna Koroma to come to the United States from her native Sierra Leone 20 years ago, and she said opportunity is what she and her family have found. All three of her children have received their college degrees, to the delight of Koroma, an LPN, and her husband, Bassie.
Koroma, who said she was “relieved, excited and blessed” to finally become a U.S. citizen, added that the immigration reform bill that passed with a strong majority in the U.S. Senate late last month is the right choice for America.
“I think it’s a good step,” remarked Koroma, who was joined by her husband, granddaughter and two sons at the ceremony. “It’s going to expand the economy, and they need more people to work.”
The Senate bill, which has the backing of the White House, allows for a 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants already living in this country illegally. The U.S. House of Representatives is now considering the bill.
Husband and wife Prashanth and Amritha Kankera were beaming after taking the Oath of Allegiance last Thursday. The Bombay, India natives were newly married when they emigrated to the U.S. 15 years ago.
“Ever since we came here, we didn’t want to go back,” Prashanth Kankera said with a broad smile. “This is a great country.”
Though the couple have family members in in the U.S., they say making the decision to permanently call America home wasn’t easy. But, they said, it was the right choice for them and their 15-year-old daughter, Sabda. Amritha Kankera, a technical architect for AT&T, said she and her husband couldn’t have picked a better moment to become citizens.
“It was a very proud moment, a very emotional moment,” she related. “To take the oath on July Fourth was very beautiful. We were told by others that this would be a beautiful ceremony, and it has exceeded our expectations in every way. It’s a big moment in our life that we will remember forever.”