Joyful Fourth for new citizens at Old Salem

Mouhamad Alhelo smiles and waves an American Flag after taking the oath of citizenship at an Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Old Salem's town square. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

Mouhamad Alhelo smiles and waves an American Flag after taking the oath of citizenship at an Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Old Salem's town square. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — It was hard for people to keep from smiling on Friday as 48 people from 31 countries took their oaths of allegiance and became U.S. citizens on the town square at Old Salem, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Charles Randolph of Ghana sat on the front row after he walked across the stage to get his citizenship certificate and just beamed. He would look up every now and then and then look back down at the certificate and beam all over again.

“I was just smiling at it,” he said after the ceremony. “I feel blessed. I don’t know what to compare it to. It is part of the American dream.”

Randolph said he traveled back and forth to America from 1996 to 2007, when he decided to stay here and make this country his home. His older brother broke the ground before him in becoming a U.S. citizen and now works as a deputy sheriff in Utah.

“That is one of the things that drives me,” Randolph said. “If he can make such a remarkable achievement, I really want to get started in a job that can help protect this country.”

Randolph lives in Charlotte and thinks he might try for a career in the Coast Guard.

The people who became newly-minted citizens came from all over, and almost half of them were the only ones from their countries who were becoming citizens during the ceremony. There were four people each from Nigeria, Peru and Sudan, three from Ghana and Vietnam, and two each from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Pakistan.

Everyone else was solo, and the list read like a roll call for an international conference: Folks from small countries such as Bhutan or Kuwait sat near folks from larger places like China and India.

The ceremony started with Boy Scouts bringing in the flag and a singing of the national anthem. An immigration officer read off the names of the countries that people were from and the people from those countries stood up. Kathy Redman, the regional director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, then administered the oath of allegiance. Later, everyone recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Ajay Patel, the guest speaker, told the new citizens to preserve their own cultures as they bring them into the American mix, and to use well the opportunities that being an American citizen provides.

Patel is director of the Center for Enterprise Research and Education at Wake Forest University. Originally from India, he went through his own naturalization ceremony in 1996.

“I don’t remember who spoke or what they said that day,” he said before the ceremony started. “All I remember was how proud I felt.”

Lateef Oladega from Nigeria – now a resident of Greensboro – wore his fancy native garb for the ceremony, as did many of the participants.

“This is one of the greatest moments of my life,” he said.

Fasting for the observance of Ramadan, Oladega met up with friends and family members after the ceremony and said he would be celebrating his new citizenship when the religious holiday was over.

Carlos Diaz, here more than six years from Cuba, wasted no time on his first day as a U.S. citizen: Diaz signed up to register to vote with the help of a volunteer from the campaign of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.

“I’m looking forward to being part of the U.S. 100 percent,” Diaz said. “I want to vote and to be able to visit other countries without having to wait two hours to get in. It is an amazing feeling getting citizenship after six and a half years.”

Patel, speaking to the new citizens, told them that they have something that “probably over a million people right in the United States” want to have.

Randolph said as he stood with family members that he understands why people come to the United States without documents.

“This is a land of opportunity, and they compare themselves to things back home, and they want to have a better life for themselves,” he said. “It is really hard to blame others for trying to do that. On the other hand, it puts pressure on the economy. It is a two-way street. If there is a way to help them out, so be it.”