Sunday, October 2, 2022

‘I get to have a say in the future’: 99 granted U.S. citizenship at Williamsburg naturalization ceremony

When Guilherme Faria first left Brazil to come to the United States 10 years ago, he ended up working at a zoo in Utah.

Now he plans to serve the U.S. citizens as a police officer.

“It was always a dream of mine since I was a kid to become an officer,” Faria said. “I couldn’t do that back home, but when I came here I realized I could achieve my dreams.”

Faria is one of the 99 people from 41 countries who became naturalized U.S. citizens  Thursday during a ceremony at the Capitol in Colonial Williamsburg.

As the crowd gathered under bright sun and in 85-degree heat, each hopeful new citizen stood up and told the crowd their name and native country. Countries of origin included Russia, France, the Philippines, Bulgaria, South Korea, Canada and more.

“All of your stories are building on the collective of our great country. You are making history by choosing to become American,” said Ghislain d’Humieres, Colonial Williamsburg senior vice president of Core Operations Group. d’Humieres is French and Austrian, and is beginning the process of naturalization himself, he said.

Making it official

Each of these immigrants came to the U.S. for various reasons, but now they have at least one thing in common — they’re official citizens of the United States.

Ninety-nine people from 41 countries became naturalized U.S. citizens Thursday during a ceremony at the Capitol in Colonial WIlliamsburg. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Ninety-nine people from 41 countries became naturalized U.S. citizens Thursday during a ceremony at the Capitol in Colonial WIlliamsburg. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. of the Eastern District of Virginia read the Oath of Allegiance. With their right hands raised, the members of the group simultaneously said each of their own names, repeating the oath after Morgan.

Morgan said that many Eastern District judges look forward to naturalization ceremonies.

“One of the reasons is that, in court, we have to rule in favor of one side and against another. But today, everybody wins. So that makes it that much better for us,” Morgan said.

Finding love

Some of the new citizens have already been in the country for a number of years on different visas, from work to school visas.

Guilherme arrived in the country on a work visa, but he eventually married a U.S. citizen, and has been with his wife for the past 10 years.

Jill Cac came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2013 on a fiancé visa. The fiancé visa allows a U.S. citizen to bring their significant other into the country and marry them within 90 days, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“When you first come here, it’s really hard,” Cac said. “It’s a lot different from my country. But I worked through it because I knew I would love to become an American citizen and help to make the country better.”

Cac is now a registered nurse because she wanted to help people, she said.

Family matters

Not all of the immigrants came to the country alone, though. Gokundas and Minalben Patel arrived in the United States five years ago from India with their son, Kishan.

On Thursday, the family became citizens together.

Gokundas, 49, and Minalben Patel, 45, cross paths at the Capitol in Colonial Williamsburg as they receive their certificates of naturalization. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Husband and wife Gokundas Patel, 49, and Minalben Patel, 45, cross paths at the Capitol in Colonial Williamsburg as they receive their certificates of naturalization. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Kishan, a 2017 graduate of Warhill High School, said he wanted to come to the United States because of the educational opportunities. Kishan now attends Thomas Nelson Community College, but he plans to study engineering at Virginia Tech.

As he held an American flag and his certificate of naturalization, he thought about all he could do now as an official citizen.

“What I’m excited about is that I can vote now,” Kishan said. “I can choose what kind of government I want. I get to have a say in the future.”

Following the ceremony, the new citizens were able to register to vote in the United States at a table provided by the Williamsburg League of Women Voters.

“What you are doing is making sure your children and generations to come will understand the true meaning of democracy,” d’Humieres said.

After taking the oath, friends, family and other onlookers gathered around the group of new citizens, cheering as each received an American flag and a certificate of naturalization.

“I’m proud,” Faria said, smiling as he held his flag. “I’m just so proud.”

Sarah Fearing contributed reporting.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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