WILLMAR - In taking the oath of citizenship, new U.S. citizens must renounce their allegiance to foreign rulers and countries.
"Your loyalty is to this country," federal Magistrate Judge David T. Schultz said after he had administered the oath to 25 people from 10 countries Tuesday morning at The Barn Theatre in Willmar.
However, the oath "doesn't mean that you somehow give up your traditions or your culture and heritage of the nation and culture from which you've come," he said. "We don't want you to do that. We want you to preserve your cultural traditions, your heritage, the foods, the music, the traditions from your native land."
Schultz used the analogy of the chili he cooks for his family. There's no recipe, he said, and he often adds new ingredients. "They don't go away, they add to the flavor and the richness of the chili," he said. "Each time we add new citizens, we add new ingredients to our melting pot. ... You're adding to the richness and flavor of all our lives."
Willmar had never before hosted a naturalization ceremony, which was a special session of U.S. District Court. Organized by the Willmar Human Rights Commission and the Willmar Area League of Women Voters, the ceremony included welcomes from several community leaders and help from school students.
The patriotic ceremony included a quintet of Willmar Senior High School students leading the national anthem and a group of second-graders from Lakeland Elementary School leading the Pledge of Allegiance. The League of Women Voters was on hand with voter registration forms.
"These events are always a favorite with judges," Schultz said to open the ceremony, "because unlike something else that goes on in court, everybody wins, and everybody's happy."
Shelly Huseby, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, joined others in welcoming the new citizens to the community. Most of them were not from Willmar but from communities in southwestern Minnesota, including Worthington, Marshall and Walnut Grove.
"Thank you for all the hard work you have done to get to this final step," Huseby said. "Thank you for doing this for yourself, your family and for generations to come."
The gift of citizenship for future generations is "something most of us in this room have been given by someone else," she said. "Most of us do not know the work you have gone through to become a citizen, because someone else generations ago did the work for us."
She quoted Abraham Lincoln: "I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives; I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him."
Her voice shook with emotion as she continued, "Today, all of the witnesses that are gathered in this room are so, so proud of you."
The 25 applicants for citizenship sat with their families in The Barn's central seating section. People from the Willmar area filled in the rest of the seats to make it a packed house.
During the ceremony, Joshua Marx, lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer, asked each applicant for citizenship to stand as their country of origin was called: Cameroon, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nicaragua, Laos, Somalia, Burma and Mexico.
Marx presented a motion to Schultz saying the government recommended that he administer the oath of allegiance. The motion said the new citizens "are persons of good moral character who are attached to the principles of the Constitution and the form of government of the United States."
Schultz accepted the motion and had the 25 people raise their right hands and repeat the oath as he read it to them.
The oath was followed by a long standing ovation.
Afterward, Schultz said he applauded the effort they had put forward in becoming citizens. "We don't know what hardships you may have had to endure along the way, but we acknowledge that you have endured them and made a sacrifice to come here today."
He told them that along with their new freedoms would come obligations.
"It's not just a matter of voting," he said. The obligation of citizenship is to contribute to the community in some way, by helping their neighbors and becoming involved in their communities.
"Pay it forward, and recognize that as a nation, we rise together, and we fall together," he said.
Oath of allegiance
"I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will give up and surrender any allegiance to any king, queen or prince or to any state or country which I have held up until this day.
"That as a citizen of the United States, I will, when lawfully directed, bear arms or perform non-combatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States, or I will, when directed, perform non-military service on behalf of the United States. I take these obligations freely, without any purpose of evasion and declare today that I am a citizen of the United States of America, so help me God."