New young Americans take oath of citizenship

Khaled Mahmud, 7, a new American from Bangladesh, gets to ring a bell at the Betsy Ross House.
Khaled Mahmud, 7, a new American from Bangladesh, gets to ring a bell at the Betsy Ross House. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 06, 2012

The chance to vote, to travel freely, to attend college or become a doctor - that's the American dream for children who seek U.S. citizenship.

"I want to do big things," said Joseph Valdecanas,14, who moved to the United States from the Philippines seven years ago and aspires to become a news reporter and help set the agenda of the American people.

Valdecanas, along with 12 other young people, now has the chance to do those "big things." In a Fourth of July ceremony Wednesday afternoon outside the Betsy Ross House, the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship & Immigration Services swore in the 13 children, ages 6 to 15, as citizens.

Then the new Americans - from Thailand, Haiti, India, Colombia, Cambodia, China, Mexico, and Bangladesh, as well as the Philippines - were welcomed by children descended from Revolutionary War participants.

"This is important for my life," said Maria Silva, 12, who moved to this country from Colombia two years ago and now lives in Montgomery County with her father, also from Colombia, and her stepmother and stepsister.

She said she was both nervous and excited to become a citizen. As part of the ceremony, the children, wearing white flower pins with red ribbons, said their first Pledge of Allegiance as citizens and sang the national anthem. Afterward, Maria's family, who hope citizenship will open up education opportunities, encouraged her to show off her Certificate of Citizenship to the camera.

The "newly minted citizens," as they were called, were selected from local children who had already applied for naturalization and were notified within the last few weeks of the opportunity to participate in the ceremony. Some children had been seeking citizenship for a year, others for several years.

In addition to Citizenship & Immigration Services, the ninth annual ceremony was sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Children of the American Revolution, the Philadelphia Police Department, AFSCME District Council 47, and the Philadelphia Flag Day Association. Family, local residents, police officers, and members of the sponsoring groups - some dressed in Revolutionary War-era attire - congratulated the new citizens.

Brothers Achyutan and Anirudh Srinivasan, 9 and 14, traveled about an hour from Allentown to join the ceremony. Their parents, who moved the family from India in 2000, received U.S. citizenship last year and sought citizenship for their sons so they, too, could have more opportunities in education, travel and, most importantly, voting.

"They will have a say in what's going on," said their father, Srinivasan Sesheadra.

That's what Floyd Turner, senior president of the Pennsylvania State Society of the Children of the American Revolution, hopes to see. He attended the ceremony for the first time with his daughter, Kathryn, 17 - they are descendants of Revolutionary War soldier William Via.

During the ceremony, Turner said he had only one request of the new citizens: that they fully participate. That means paying taxes, voting, keeping the electorate in check, and volunteering in the community.

"I hope to read about you many years from now doing great things," he told them.

Contact Dara McBride at 215-854-4904 or .

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