Fourth is an ideal day to celebrate citizenship

Union Leader Correspondent
July 04. 2013 8:15PM

Rui Guilherme of Derry celebrates his naturalization as a United States citizen following a special ceremony at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth on Thursday. Guilherme is a native of Portugal but has lived in the United States for 43 years and has raised five sons here, who all joined him on Thursday. “It's a big, big day,” Guilherme said. (GRETYL MACALASTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — The mood was celebratory inside the tent and on the grounds of Strawbery Banke Museum on Thursday.

Under the tent, about 125 men and women representing 57 different countries become some of the nation's newest citizens.

Outside, the grounds and historic homes of the museum were decked out in red, white and blue as 400 years of American history was celebrated.

The special naturalization ceremony has become an important part of "An American Celebration" at Strawbery Banke on Independence Day that many look forward to, including museum president Lawrence J. Yerdon who not only works on, but lives on the grounds. Yerdon told those gathered that the naturalization ceremony is his favorite of the many events held at the museum.

But there were fewer more excited than those gaining their citizenship, whether they have been in the country for four or forty years.Flemming Fiil of Charlestown came to the country from Denmark 27 years ago as a fisherman working in Gloucester. He moved to New Hampshire, got married and raised a stepdaughter."It is fantastic to become a United States citizen. It's a thing that's been a long time on my mind," Fiil said.

Rui Guilherme of Derry raised five sons in the United States after emigrating from a Portugese island 43 years ago.

"It is a big, big day," he said with a big smile after receiving his certificate and a greeting from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and her husband, Bill.

Guilherme's five sons wore a celebratory and patriotic T-shirt bearing their father's name to honor his accomplishment.

"I've been waiting for this so I'm so excited," Guilherme said.

Mohamed Kamara of Concord came from Sierra Leone about five years ago. He said becoming a United States citizen for him, is like being a "newborn."

"It is like I am a new person," Kamara said.

Each of the new citizens and their families were invited to join in the museum's Independence Day celebration without paying the day's admission fee.

Many others came from around the country to enjoy the museum's historic celebration, including three generations of the Mayerson family of California.

The patriarch, 90-year-old World War II veteran and retired Judge Samuel Mayerson said, outside of Williamsburg, Va., he has never seen anything quite like Strawbery Banke.

Mayerson said such Independence Day events are "inspiring," and the essence of it all was embodied in the naturalization ceremony."All I can say is, I hope these new citizens are as inspired as I was just listening to everything," Mayerson said."I thought it was remarkable when they started reading the list of countries, I thought they were just going through the list of the United Nations," Mayerson said.

In her prepared remarks, Shaheen celebrated the different cultural elements each new immigrant will bring to the United States.

"America's greatness always has come from being a nation of immigrants. This is as true today as it was at the founding of this nation 237 years ago," Shaheen said.

She also used the opportunity to talk about what she called the nation's "broken" immigration system and said the bipartisan immigration reform package passed last week by the Senate is the "right way forward."

"It was important, I think, for the Senate to pass immigration reform before 4th of July, just as becoming citizens on 4th of July no doubt makes this great achievement even more meaningful for you," Shaheen said.

She said it is the obligation of all American citizens, including the nation's newest, to ensure the precious rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are secured and protected.

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