157 new citizens realize a dream Ceremony: Flags, balloons and patriotic songs make Columbia event one to remember for freshly minted citizens from more than 50 countries.

June 09, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

Hazel Jemmott left Barbados as a single mother 19 years ago and came to Columbia seeking educational opportunities for her daughter, Adriane. She succeeded -- next month Jemmott's daughter plans to take the Maryland Bar Exam.

Jemmott achieved another long-term goal Friday as she took the oath of citizenship with 157 other immigrants at Howard County's second naturalization ceremony, in Columbia.

"We all come here with dreams," said Jemmott, a nursing assistant who lives in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village.

The new citizens joined in an emotional ceremony at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. Red, white and blue balloons and dozens of miniature U.S. flags added to the patriotic atmosphere.

A choir from Wilde Lake High School at River Hill sang "America the Beautiful" and "This Land is Your Land" for an audience that included state and local dignitaries.

"America is a banquet table of opportunity," said guest speaker, gospel singer Wintley Phipps, who was naturalized during last year's ceremony. "But only those who have an appetite can eat. Hope is the appetite. Just never lose your hope."

Born in Trinidad, the Columbia resident dreamed as a boy about traveling the world. "Now, I go to London for the weekend," Phipps told the audience.

The names of the immigrants, from more than 50 countries, were read. Later, they raised their right hands and repeated the naturalization oath led by county Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney.

"I'm taking it [the oath] from my heart and soul," said Pakistan- born Abdul Satta Choudhary, 38, looking dapper in his gray suit with a Harley-Davidson tie.

He and the others gave up citizenship to their homelands and assumed privileges and obligations of Americans.

"I'm losing one thing and I'm gaining another," said Susan Eduke, 37, who was born in Cameroon.

The Foreign-Born Information Network and Referral Service (FIRN), a Columbia-based nonprofit agency, sponsored the celebration for the convenience of county residents who otherwise might become citizens in a more bureaucratic setting elsewhere.

At last year's county ceremony, 164 were naturalized.

"We think it celebrates the best about immigration," said Patricia Hatch, FIRN's executive director. "It reminds us of our immigrant heritage."

Most of Howard's immigrants come from Mexico, El Salvador, Haiti, Vietnam, South Korea and the former Soviet Union, Hatch said.

To become U.S. citizens, immigrants must speak, write and read English, and must have been permanent residents for five years, three years if married to an American.

Kim Suor Ngan of Cambodia said Friday's ceremony was nothing like the uneventful citizenship ceremony he underwent in France, where he received only a piece of paper. "I'm loaded with emotions," he said.

Nearby, the three members of a Columbia family who had just been naturalized together posed for photographs in front of a model of the Statue of Liberty.

"We do everything together," said Marie Ludmila Siwekova, flanked by her husband, Zygmunt Siwek, and their daughter, Martina. The mother and daughter were born in Czechoslovakia, the father in Poland.

In another rite of passage in the lobby afterward, many of the new Americans lined up at a voter registration table sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Howard County.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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