- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2019

Waving makeshift fans to stay cool in the July heat near the tomb of America’s first president, 51 foreign nationals from 28 different countries took the Oath of Allegiance and became U.S. citizens on Thursday.

The naturalization ceremony at Mount Vernon, the home and resting place of George Washington, was one of more than 100 ceremonies across the country that welcomed almost 7,500 new citizens between July 1 and July 5. More than 200 spectators gathered on the grounds of Mount Vernon’s east lawn as the new citizens took the oath.

Zerihun Tegegen came to the U.S. from Ethiopia in May 2009. As a student, he received his master’s degree in computer science at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa.

“It’s an honor. It’s a great honor to be a citizen of this great country,” Mr. Tegegen said.

Twenty-seven other naturalization ceremonies took place across the country on the Fourth of July, according to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service.

Doug Bradburn, president and CEO of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, welcomed the new citizens by pointing out “how fitting” it was to conduct the ceremony on the grounds of Mount Vernon.

The significance of becoming a citizen at the birthplace of America’s first president was not lost on Steve Zhao, a new citizen originally from China.

“That’s very meaningful especially on July Fourth,” Mr. Zhao. “It’s very, very exciting and very, very special for us.”

Mr. Zhao and his wife, Joan, first came to America in 2000 as students in Ohio. Mr. Zhao studied physics; his wife statistics. They have three daughters who have grown up in Virginia.

“We will be able to join more into the democratic system and the political system,” Mr. Zhao said. “I mean, we’ll cast our vote. That’s very meaningful to us.”

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Centers for Immigration Studies, also welcomed the new citizens.

“We welcome you as our newest countrymen,” Mr. Krikorian said. “We entrust part of our nation’s future to you. We ask only that you love America, cherish America, honor her, protect her, embrace her, salute her, hold her dear.”

He also said they have not just been adopted into the America family not just tied together by blood, but by “common ideals, a common language, a common history, and common culture.”

For Reina Neris Reyes De Cruz from Honduras, the wait for citizenship started in 1986. For her, becoming a U.S. citizen is “her purpose.”

Her daughter said Ms. De Cruz told her a few days ago one of the first actions she will take after becoming a citizen will be registering to vote.

Abinash Rama, originally from India, said he visited Williamsburg, Virginia, a few weeks ago and found significance in the history of America’s struggle for independence.

“It’s really great to become a citizen at the place where our first president was living,” Mr. Rama said. “I mean this is where all the things started.”

It has taken Mr. Rama 21 years to get his citizenship. He thought he was going to leave the U.S. at one point, but when he moved to the District, he decided to become a permanent resident.

“To be part of this ceremony in this special location, it’s a big thing,” said Karmacharya Prajwol, originally from Nepal.

Mr. Prajwol came to the U.S. 20 years ago and studied computer information systems at the University of Dallas. His family watched as he took the Oath of Allegiance — with the Potomac River to his left and the Mount Vernon estate to his right.

The 21-room Mount Vernon mansion lies on an estimated 500 acres along the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia. Washington started to run Mount Vernon in 1754 and lived there until his death in 1799.

Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year and opened to the public in 1860. Washington and his wife, Martha, are entombed there with other family members.

“We felt very, very good warmth when we were coming here today,” Mr. Zhao said. “Beautiful day and beautiful setting.”

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