Twenty-eight Yankee Doodle Dandies -- sworn on the Fourth of July -- were real-live guests of Uncle you-know-who yesterday at the Museum of History and Technology.
Petitioners for naturalization, they had passed the tests and outwaited the waiting periods. From now on, they'll leave sweating things out to government typographers. Sukhdev Lal Tatwadhia (India), Ekaterini Baxevanis (Greece), Amnaj Taupradistha (Thailand) and 25 others are on their way.
The candidates gathered at 10 a.m. in the Museum's long and narrow "We the People" Hall, festooned with historic campaign posters and other Americana, but transformed for the day into a U.S. District Courtroom. On their lapels and blouses they wore tiny flags with red, white and blue bars, purchased for them by the court. Candidates for French citizenship? A wise guy photographer tried that line, but it fell flat. Wise guys and new citizens don't mix -- especially on the 4th.
Presiding over the legalities was the Honorable Harold H. Greene, named last week as best district judge in the circuit by The American Lawyer magazine. Thirty-odd years after he himself took the oath of allegiance, Greene told the inductees that they more than anyone honored the U.S.A. by choosing it as their country.
Twenty-two-year-old Roberto Sicre, who came here from Cuba at age 3, looked moist around the eyes.
"That's one of the best compliments that could be told to a human being by a country," he said later of Greene's remark.
After the new citizens had renounced and abjured their duties to foreign princes and potentates, part of the pledge that brings them to the finish line, they listened to Joseph Duffy, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, quote Shakespeare.
"This play can never please all who are here," said Duffy, explaining that the line from the Bard's postscript to his last play, "Henry VIII," applied to the U.S. as well. The literary sweep touched some more than others. Jan Simko, former professor of English in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, loved it.
"It took the ceremony to a higher level, the level of culture," said Simko, who is writing a book on Shakespeare.
Many of yesterday's new citizens have lived and worked in the Washington area for years. They gave different reasons for finally becoming citizens now. Elba Mogni, a dental assistant, came here from Bolivia 10 years ago. Three times previously her attempt to emigrate failed because her father's Japanese nationality placed her under a quota that affected few Bolivians. Although she could have applied for U.S. citizenship sooner, she first wanted to become "fully integrated" into American society.
"Now, I relly am," she said, grinning broadly.
Erna Freyman, like Mogni, had more than two countries to worry about.
Listed in the program as a German native, the 79-year old former floor supervisor at the Statler Hilton Confided that she had been born there during a trip by her parents away from South Africa, the place where she really grew up. Despite 10 years here, Freyman always held back from applying because she anticipated that her daughter would move back overseas and that she would follow. Once her daughter decided otherwise, she took the plunge.
"My heart has always been here," whispered Freyman, a sudden media star as television reporters lured by her luminous silver hair and kindly manner queued up to interview her.
Soon relatives and friends were nudging the new Americans into corners, snapshotting their big smiles into family histories. Punch glasses rang out toast after toast. Mingling easily at a reception after the ceremony, the former citizens of 25 different countries compared the questions they had been asked about America during their interviews with naturalization officials. Popular in D.C., apparently, are "Who is the mayor of Washington?" and "Does the District of Columbia have a voting delegate in Congress?" John Gossart Jr., general attorney for nationality with the Justice Department, watched his "graduates" wait for their certificates and explained that no one really misses out on citizenship because of a bad guess about the D.C. drinking age.
"It's very judgmental," Gossart admitted about the importance of answering the questions correctly. "It depends on a lot of things concerning the individual involved."
The individuals involved yesterday, many of whom Gossart personally interviewed, disappointed some of the newspeople present who had come propelled by visions of long sea voyages and daring dissidence.
"I told the people on 'Good Morning America,'" apologized Gossart, "that I couldn't find anyone who swam the Rio Grande with bullets whizzing over his head."