Bush Welcomes New American Citizens
Saturday, July 5, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE, July 4 -- President Bush kicked off the Fourth of July at the hilltop estate of one of the nation's Founding Fathers, where he welcomed dozens of new American citizens from 30 countries.
Bush's address Friday at the annual Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello was immediately interrupted by a handful of antiwar demonstrators, one of whom repeatedly shouted, "Impeach Bush!" Bush, apparently unfazed, offered a holiday-appropriate response.
"To my fellow citizens-to-be, we believe in free speech in the United States of America," Bush said to hearty applause.
Six protesters, including one in a cartoonish Uncle Sam hat, were "voluntarily escorted" away from the crowd of 3,000, and no arrests were made, said Lee Catlin, a spokeswoman for Albemarle County.
The citizenship ceremony has been held annually since 1963 outside Jefferson's colonnaded plantation home in the verdant Piedmont hills. Bush, the fourth U.S. president to address the event, lauded the "guiding principles" Jefferson laid out in the Declaration of Independence, saying they had long inspired immigrants like those gathered before him.
"They've made America a melting pot of cultures from all across the world. They've made diversity one of the great strengths of our democracy," he said. "And all of us here today are here to honor and pay tribute to that great notion of America."
The 74 new citizens (72 adults and two children) filed one by one across a sun-drenched stage, and they shook hands with their new president. There was Ali Hussain Al Asady, an Iraqi man with a small U.S. flag sticking out of one buttonhole of his striped shirt. There was Sawsan Mohamed El Fatih Zeyada, a Sudanese woman wearing a vibrant floral head scarf. And there was Julia White Freeman, a petite girl born eight years ago in China, who got more than a handshake: Bush lifted her off the ground and propped her on his hip.
Julia, donning a red-white-and-blue dress tailor-made for the occasion, smiled sheepishly.
"I knew already I was an American, but it just made me feel very good and different," Julia said after the ceremony, as she soaked in the atmosphere with her parents, John Freeman and Jennifer White of Charlottesville, and her sister, Emily, who, like Julia, was adopted from China. "I feel that it's very exciting."
The experience was heady for other new citizens, too, all Virginia residents who seemed to realize that they were taking the oath under special circumstances. Many naturalization ceremonies occur in places such as federal courtrooms.
It was inspiring for Zeyada, 40, a native of Khartoum who is studying for a master's degree and hopes to become a psychologist. She, like many others in the group, said she was "proud to be an American." But she said that when she looked at the cast on the stage -- Bush, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and a gaggle of federal judges in black robes -- she saw her American dream for her four children, ages 7 to 12, who watched from the crowd.
"My kids have a big chance here," she said, referring to the United States. She pointed toward the stage. "Those men up there, maybe they can be one of them."