- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

The first celebration on the Mall yesterday of the signing of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights 219 years ago featured the swearing-in of 26 new United States citizens.

“You are now a part of America, and America is a part of you,” said Michael L. Aytes, an associate director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. “You will be as responsible for the future of America as every other citizen.”

Mr. Aytes referred to the Mall as the country’s “front lawn” and said the surrounding monuments are symbols of American history created by “the diversity of its culture and dreams.”

He said “Americans value freedom” and that citizenship includes “the right to choose our leaders and to disagree with them.”

“It’s been a dream for a long time,” said Larissa Tishevskaya, 35, who arrived from Russia six years ago and became a U.S. citizen yesterday. “I believe in what the Founding Fathers of this country proclaimed.”

Mrs. Tishevskaya works at a convention and visitors bureau and has traveled along the East Coast.

“But California is one of my favorite places,” said Mrs. Tishevskaya, who lives in Old Town Alexandria with her husband, Paul Stayert, 53, a satellite development contractor.

The new citizens, relatives and friends gathered for the 11:45 a.m. naturalization ceremony under a tent while the U.S. flag billowed in the breeze and the Monumental City Ancient Fife and Drum Corps performed.

The U.S. Military District of Washington Armed Forces Color Guard presented the U.S. flag.

After the new citizens were awarded their certificates, the fife and drum corps led children on a “Fun Walk” around the Mall. Each child received a small U.S. flag, an inscribed wristband, a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution and a poster.

Other children’s activities included face painting, performances by a juggling clown and a magician, and storytelling. Also available were books about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, a lesson on “How You Can Become a Supreme Court Justice,” and medical and fire department exhibits.

The program closed with patriotic music.

Norman Manasa, director of the National Education Project, which sponsored some of the events, said the Constitution and Bill of Rights are the rules by which a free people govern themselves.

Organizers hope Constitution Day will become an annual observance and have scheduled celebrations next year for Sept. 16, a Sunday.

The new citizens came from 15 countries: Canada, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Guatemala, India, Mexico, China, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Leonardo Scaglia, 31, came from Uruguay 10 years ago to attend Baylor University and lived in Texas for four years. There he met his future wife, Karla. The couple have been married five years and 11 months and now live in Ashburn, Va.

“It was cool” to be naturalized, said Mr. Scaglia, who is employed as an AOL specialist. “I felt like an American. I’d been here awhile.”

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