A torrential downpour at New York City’s Bronx Zoo meant a day with few tourists for the park’s 4,000 animals.
But inside the Schiff Family Great Hall, across from the “Madagascar!” exhibit, the soggy morning did nothing to dampen a celebration of 32 impeccably dressed children — from 25 countries — from becoming U.S. citizens.
Watch: Children from 25 countries Become Adorable American Citizens
“See this flag?” U.S. Representative José Serrano, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, asked the seated children, each equipped with a miniature banner of stars and stripes.
“Don’t let anyone tell you: ‘You weren’t born here, this flag is not yours,’ ” Serrano said. “No, this flag belongs to you and me. It is our flag.”
Excited, nervous … citizens
The children, ranging in age from 5 to 13, were mostly excited, sometimes nervous. But after the Oath of Allegiance was administered, all became citizens.
“It makes me feel proud that I can be part of the United States,” 8-year-old Sara from Morocco said. “I’m going to celebrate by turning on my TV and put[ting] on a movie, and my mom will cook something for us to eat to celebrate.”
“I feel excited and good, because I never even noticed that here we have a lot of things that we can do,” 8-year-old Luz Estrella Luna, a Dominican-American whose full name means “light, star, moon,” added.
Luz’s father, Luís, who became a citizen himself six years ago, said it was wonderful to witness his daughter’s ceremony, along with everything she has accomplished while living in this country.
“My daughter is an honors student in school, and improving every single day,” Luis Luna added, in Spanish, while embracing his daughter.
‘New American family’
While a U.S. citizenship ceremony for children is purely symbolic, it often represents something greater for their parents.
“The parents have already become citizens, and getting the children a citizenship certificate is really the last step,” said Katie Tichacek, public affairs officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “We hope that this sort of ends the process for them and begins their experience as a new American family.”
As for the kids’ responsibilities, Tichacek added, “they have to show up at the ceremony and look cute, basically.”
For parents, access to a good education and employment are among the most important benefits of citizenship, including for Igor Volkov of Russia, whose son came to the United States as a toddler.
“He knows only United States, and now he is a citizen,” Volkov said, referring to his son Vlad, now 7. “He can feel he has 100 percent opportunity for all — for school, college, work. He is 100 percent citizen.”