Posing for a photo at the center of the reception was Tina Evangelista, a program coordinator at Johns Hopkins University.
“You’ve got to get my shoes,” she told the man holding up her iPhone. “Very important.”
She cradled her certificate of naturalization and pivoted her peep-toe slingbacks: red, white and blue, bought especially for the day.
“Ten and a half years ago, I came to visit a friend for three months, and I just stayed,” says Evangelista, 36, explaining her path to citizenship, which led from her native Guinea-Bissau to her adoptive Portugal to her newest home. “I love it so much. There were too many opportunities to turn around. Just knowing that all I had to do is grab what I want. I’d be jumping up and down if there weren’t all these people here.”
There were supposed to be 225 of them — one for every year since the signing of the world’s longest-standing and most-briefly-worded governing document — but not everyone showed up. (They obviously didn’t know there would be French toast sticks.)
The event began with that most American of activities: the filling out of paperwork while waiting in a line. In single file, the petitioners inched down the steps of the Archives’ basement theater to check in with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). Each had arrived at the same metaphysical place through different and winding paths, and were grouped randomly to take their oaths on Sept. 17, which has been known as Constitution Day since the late Sen. Robert Byrd attached an amendment to an appropriations bill in 2005.
“It only took three and a half months” from application to swearing-in, says Pablo Mendez, 40, originally from the Dominican Republic and a resident of the District for the past 25 years.
“If you want a different story, I’ll tell you one,” says Edit Pena, standing in front of him in line, wearing a flag-patterned sweater and red-white-and-blue hoop earrings.
Pena’s family emigrated from Buenos Aires in the ’60s, and she first applied for U.S. citizenship in 1975, but she didn’t hear back from the government until 1977, when authorities told her the application was no longer valid.
Discouraged by the resulting runaround, she put off pursuing citizenship until after she retired from the World Bank in 2004. She applied again in 2007, but in her interview the following year she learned that her paperwork had been misplaced somewhere in Philadelphia. A month ago, with no elaboration, she was told that her naturalization was a go.