On the holiday commemorating the birth of their adopted country, 41 men and women from every part of the globe arrived before 9 a.m. yesterday and quietly took assigned seats in Freedom Park in Rosslyn.
Among them were college students, a restaurant cashier, an executive assistant to a chief administrative officer of a large company, a landscaper. Some wore little American flag pins. They came from 27 countries, and after a brief naturalization ceremony, they were full-fledged U.S. citizens.
Immediately after receiving his citizenship certificate, Jose Salazar, who immigrated to the Washington area more than 10 years ago from Mexico, walked to a nearby table where volunteers were registering voters. Salazar's first act was to fill out his registration form with painstaking and precise penmanship.
"I feel very happy," said Salazar, 70, a restaurant cashier. "All Hispanics should vote. It's the only way to ensure our rights."
The Freedom Park ceremony was one of more than 90 that took place yesterday across the country, in which more than 15,000 new citizens were naturalized, officials said.
The event marked the eighth year that the Newseum, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department have joined forces to host a Fourth of July naturalization ceremony.
Salazar said he came to the Washington area from his home in Oaxaca more than a decade ago to work and send money to help educate his four children, who were all studying engineering in Mexico. Each is now working as an engineer. "They don't need my financial help anymore," he said.
A half-dozen new citizens who were interviewed expressed pride in gaining U.S. citizenship. Some spoke of finally having the chance to vote; others talked of how becoming an American will improve their lives.
"More opportunities are presented. Sometimes you're held back because you're not a citizen," said Sulakshana Seevaratham, 21, a junior at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
Seevaratham, who came from Sri Lanka to the United States with her family eight years ago, noted that some government jobs and many scholarships are reserved for U.S. citizens. Seevaratham said she plans on going to medical school.
Aside from welcoming more opportunities, Seevaratham said she is honored to be a U.S. citizen.
Although she said she is aware that many people around the world view the United States negatively because of the war in Iraq, she said she wasn't fazed by that. When traveling, she said, "You can show people you have morals and values."
Before the ceremony, Jose Antonio Menjivar, 44, sat one row behind Seevaratham, a miniature American flag in the pocket of his short-sleeved shirt.
Menjivar came to the Washington area 16 years ago from El Salvador. He said he started out working as a busboy at a restaurant in Rosslyn and now works for a landscaping company and lives in Fairfax with his wife.
The best part about becoming a U.S. citizen, Menjivar said, is that, "Now I can vote. I can have [political] representation."
Likewise, Fiona Makarevich, 41, of Great Britain, who has lived in the United States off and on since 1987, said she views voting as a duty now that she is a U.S. citizen.
"This is my home now. When it's your home, you have certain responsibilities," said Makarevich, an executive secretary who lives with her husband in Gainesville.
Makarevich said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made her feel more a part of the United States. When the attacks occurred, "I was proud to say I lived in this country," she said.
Antoun Almasri, 27, emigrated seven years ago from Syria. Since arriving in the United States, Almasri said, he has obtained an undergraduate degree from Catholic University and is studying architecture at Virginia Tech.
"I feel like I'm part of this society now," Almasri said. "Today is the Fourth of July. To be a citizen on that day -- I'm really honored."