Even as Ray Sabulalo taught hundreds of university students about the government and laws five years ago in his native Philippines, he dreamed of becoming a "citizen of the United States, a citizen of a world leader."
Yesterday, Sabulalo realized his dream after learning more than enough to teach fellow Americans about his new homeland.
"I thank God and your government and your people for accepting me," he said.
Sabulalo joined 356 others who were sworn in yesterday at the War Memorial Building in downtown Baltimore in one of the largest ceremonies in Maryland this year. The scores of immigrants who raised their right hand to take the oath yesterday had lived at least five years in the country and passed a difficult citizenship exam from the Department of Immigration and Naturalization.
Some immigrants, like 97-year-old Hue Vu of Vietnam, who moved to the United States in 1988, took the oath to be like their children and grandchildren. "She's happy," said her daughter, Linda Tran, who attended yesterday's ceremony to translate for Vu. "Everybody in our house is now a citizen."
For other immigrants, taking the 140-word oath and renouncing their previous citizenship was the final step to joining a country they have called home for much longer than five years.
Jose Ledos of Silver Spring sat with his wife and his son Emilio, who waved a small American flag as his father waited to take the oath. Ledos came to the United States 30 years ago at the age of 17. "I'm a Spaniard in my soul, but I'm an American in my heart," he said.
The new Americans were welcomed by Martin Ford, head of the Maryland Office for New Americans. Ford urged the crowd to learn more about the United States while preserving their cultures.
"Let your children teach you about American ways, but don't believe you must accept all of them," Ford said. "Eating at McDonald's is fine -- once in a while."
The end of the century has brought a wave of immigrants that will change the face of the country in the next 20 years, Ford said.
More than 26 million immigrants live in the United states, almost 10 percent of the population. Nearly 66 percent of America's population growth in the next 50 years will come from immigration.
"Historians will look back at our time and say, 'Now there was an important period for the United States, a crucial time for America,' " said Ford. "As new citizens, you will play a part in American history. Even more important will be the part that your children play."
Florette Simister, 73, of Jamaica spent much of her morning trying to find a parking space and filling out naturalization paperwork. The effort took its toll, she said. She collapsed before the ceremony in the front row of the auditorium where the oath was going to be given. She had to be taken to Mercy Medical Center for treatment of heart problems.
After the swearing-in, Simister received a bedside visit at the emergency room from Immigration Department District Director Benedict J. Ferro. He administered the oath as a crowd of nurses, doctors and hospital workers watched.
The staffers took a picture with their forensics camera.
"I've seen people born, baptized and married in the E. R.," said hospital Police Officer Paul Manley. "But this is a first."
Simister was released from the hospital later in the day.
Pub Date: 12/19/98