BY SHERI TRUSTY
A group of 20 people representing 14 different countries walked into the Catawba Island Township Community Hall, pledged an oath of allegiance to the United States before U.S. District Court Judge Darrell A. Clay, and took their first breaths as American citizens on Thursday, May 11. For a few moments, the naturalization ceremony brought the world to Catawba.
“This is the best part of being a judge,” Clay said. “Everything else we do is rooted in conflict. This is rooted in celebration.”
The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, has a 13-county jurisdiction. Five judges, including Clay, preside over naturalization ceremonies within the district. Because Clay is a Catawba Island resident, he chose to host the ceremony on Catawba to highlight the area to the country’s newest residents.
Clay opened the ceremony by greeting the citizens-to-be in their native languages. They chose to complete the long and grueling process of becoming a U.S. citizen for a number of reasons. Some came for work, some for family, and some for freedom.
“I thought it was best to take the next step. I may bring my family here,” said Gregorio Pineda Salgado of Mexico. “Now I can vote and do things like a resident.”
Jennifer Percival of Canada is the director of the Schmidthorst College of Business at Bowling Green State University. Maintaining dual-citizenship will allow her to assist foreign students and facility members who also want to pursue citizenship, and it can strengthen business relations through the university.
“It’s a lot about making connections with the community,” Percival said.
Fakiha Zahra took the oath dressed in an elegant shalwar kameez, which is traditional women’s attire of her native Pakistan. Zahra, who will also maintain dual-citizenship, became a U.S. citizen to be near her children. She said she was very proud to now be an American.
“We live in both countries, but mostly I live here, with my kids,” she said.
The new citizens said the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as Americans, and they sang the National Anthem, which was led by Catawba resident Carolyn Thorp. Tim Schneider from the office of U.S. Senator J.D. Vance was the guest speaker. He told the new Americans that U.S. citizenship gives them the “ability to forge your own destiny.”
“Today, you establish your American roots,” Schneider said.
Dmitry Nikolaevich Krasikov of Russia was grateful for the opportunity to forge his own destiny. He came to the U.S. hoping to immerse himself in the country’s freedoms.
“I wanted to be a part of this country, to belong here,” he said, and was “excited and proud” to be an American.
“I want to be part of the democracy here. This is one of the countries where it actually works,” he said.