“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
These words, etched on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, echoed through the Colonial Capitol building on Monday, when 24 people from 16 countries earned their American citizenship during a naturalization ceremony.
Some of the new citizens at the ceremony are already serving their country, such as Aidane Dunn, a member of the U.S. Navy who came from Jamaica.
Dunn said he joined the Navy to help the U.S. and to set a good example for his 2-year-old son
“There are lots of opportunities out there for us, U.S. citizens,” Dunn said.
Another military member who was naturalized Monday was John Gutierrez, who serves in the U.S. Air Force.
“I’m ecstatic to be here — it’s a big day,” Gutierrez said. He has been living in the states for 15 years.
“My family moved here when I was little to give me a better life — so I’m doing what I need to, to be here.”
Dunn and Gutierrez embodied the advice Kurt Smith, who interprets Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg, gave to the new citizens: be active participants in the country’s affairs.
Smith said through freeing other enslaved people and taking up arms in the Civil War, Harriet Tubman showed being a true American meant standing up for your neighbor’s rights, even if it meant risking your own life.
“Eighty-seven years after Thomas Jefferson wrote ‘all men are created equal,’ we finally had a country that meant it because brave women and brave men stood up for the human rights of others,” Smith said.
The fight for democracy will never stop, Smith said, and new citizens will need to vote and participate in public discourse to benefit all of society.
“These milestones have not come easily, they have not come readily, they have not come without violence and even sometimes bloodshed. They have come — every single one of them — have come from people showing up. From people voting. From people standing up when told to sit down.”
Another notable newly naturalized citizen was Ghislain d'Humières, who has served as executive director and senior vice president at Colonial Williamsburg for about a year.
“Colonial Williamsburg has observed naturalization (ceremonies) for the past four decades,” said Karen Pruden, senior manager of human resources and diversity and inclusion at Colonial Williamsburg. “It is befitting that ceremony is held on our property because the mission is to feed the American spirit by sharing America’s enduring story.”
At the end of the ceremony, the 24 new Americans rushed to friends and family, hugging and taking photos with American flags they left the building.
As they walked off, Smith’s words and Jefferson’s sentiments lingered in the air.
"Men and women, boys, girls, farmers, immigrants have changed the face of this entire nation,” Smith said. “We thank them for their bravery, but the journey is not over — we are still creating the enduring story of America, and now, you are part of that story.”
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.