Kondi Poulimenakos, a 16-year-old resident of Highlandtown's Greektown neighborhood, is a native of Sparta and two years shy of eligibility for U.S. citizenship.
But that didn't stop her from reigning yesterday as Dundalk VFW Post No. 6694's "Loyalty Day Queen" during yesterday's 53rd annual "I Am An American Day Parade" around Patterson Park.
The teen-ager earned the honor by expertly answering 21 technical questions about the American flag. And for that she got to wear a ball gown, sit pretty in a cruising convertible and hand out as many miniature American flags as there were takers.
"The flag means my country, loyalty, and freedom -- it means everything to me," she said, a wicker basket of tiny flags on her arm as 28 new Americans took the citizenship oath on a platform behind her.
The naturalization ceremony, on a reviewing stand set up on South Linwood Avenue, is the reason behind the annual patriotic parade that defines East Baltimore as much as painted screens, ethnic churches and corner gin mills. Yesterday's program brought former citizens of 19 countries from Myanmar to Guyana to El Salvador into the flock of Americans.
The oldest among them was 69-year-old Dorothy Elliott of Jamaica, and the youngest, 19-year-old Huy Tan Hang of Vietnam.
"Now I have to voice my concerns and participate in the voting process," said V. P. Zeniam, formerly of Lebanon, where, he recalled, "we used to have freedom and elections and the democratic process. It collapsed because of outside forces.
"I owe my new liberty to the U.S. Constitution, the important document that keeps this great country alive," Mr. Zeniam said.
Boon Lim, a native of Myanmar, formerly Burma, was naturalized with his wife, Eileen, while their toddler daughter, Christine -- a U.S. citizen by birth -- played in her mother's lap. "It is very exciting," Mr. Lim said.
And Aida Ruiz, 22, formerly of El Salvador, said the transformation made her "happy, satisfied, content. I knew it would happen someday."
But to Palestinian refugee Nina Saah, 60, who was without a country before yesterday afternoon, there was a more dramatic bottom line to new citizenship.
"It means," declared her 21-year-old daughter, Nadia, "that now she can travel freely through the Middle East and cross into the occupied territories of Israel without being strip-searched."
Mrs. Saah, who lives in Bethesda with her husband, was a bit more lyrical in her reaction. "I'm happy to know that I'm in a great country where everybody is free, and if you work hard you will achieve your goals in life."
Around the route of the parade -- which ringed Patterson Park and featured military bands, high school majorettes and scores of hopeful politicians angling for office in Thursday's municipal primary -- were thousands of spectators.
For one of them, 70-year-old George Sibiski, it was something of a homecoming. He said it had been many years since he had traveled back to his old Canton neighborhood to enjoy the patriotic spectacle.
"I moved out to Rosedale more than 30 years ago, and I'm just getting back in touch with things," said Mr. Sibiski, raised near the corner of Elliott and Decker streets near the southeast Baltimore waterfront.
"It was a wonderful thing to come up here as a kid with the neighborhood crew and see the Army bands and all that good flag flying. It's hard to express, but it made you feel great," he said.
Explaining the ethnic mix that makes up America's melting pot, one that continues to thrive in East Baltimore, Mr. Sibiski said: "Polish or Greek, they're all American."
And for U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr., who administered the oath of allegiance to the new Americans, the day was the rare chance to preside over something good.
"This is the most rewarding thing we do," said Judge Black. "There's no downside to it, it's a happy day for everyone."