Last Saturday, under a cloudless sky, Congressman Tom Perriello addressed new citizens and onlookers at the 47th Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony on July 4th at Monticello.
Sixty-six people from 35 countries took the Oath of Citizenship, becoming Americans in front of roughly 1,800 family members, friends, and well-wishers.
Perriello told the crowd that it was “an ineffable thrill” to be present at the ceremony, a ceremony that celebrates “earned citizenship” rather than citizenship granted by birth.
“You’re joining this country of ours at a moment of great difficulty,” Perriello told the applicants, calling the United States “an imperfect but ever perfecting idea of liberty.” It is precisely these new Americans, he said, none of whom have taken “the path of least resistance” to get here, who are needed to help our country on its journey towards that perfection.
Congressman Tom Perriello came home over the Fourth to celebrate “earned citizenship” with 66 new Americans.
There was an ironic twist to the Representative from the Fifth District welcoming new citizens to the country. During the 2008 election, Perriello was subject to a slanderous Republican attack ad that not only accused him of being from New York, but doctored a photo to make him look darker-skinned, essentially implying that he is foreign.
Of course Perriello is American by birth, born and raised in Ivy, but he’s no stranger to the plight of people in other countries. Before running for office, he worked in places like Darfur, Kosovo and Afghanistan—places where difficult political situations make people dream of America.
He won over longtime incumbent Virgil Goode in a close race (745 votes), and since then it hasn’t been exactly smooth sailing for Perriello. The day before his speech at Monticello, a group gathered outside his Charlottesville office to protest the congressman’s yes vote on a recent energy bill, which opponents say will cost the average household $175 a year.
Perriello says he supports the bill because it means jobs for Virginia, and that energy savings will offset the price increase. The protest on Friday got ugly, with signs calling Perriello a “traitor” and a “prostitute.”
Traitor was not what came to mind as Perriello spoke on Saturday. He was humble and earnest, and although not as flashy as previous speakers (will anything beat last year’s security and protest-fest when then-President George W. Bush gave the address?), he seemed appropriately awed by the event and deferential to the real stars, the people waiting to become Americans.
The actual utterance of the Oath of Citizenship transforms one into an American citizen, and after that magic was performed, several of the new Americans stepped up to the microphone to say a few words.
Five-year-old Eleanor Hilgart, already a citizen by virtue of her adoption from China, but receiving on Saturday her certificate of citizenship, was the last to speak, helped to the platform by her father. Standing in the bright sun, she hesitated for a moment before perfectly summing up the day. “I love this country,” she said. “It’s a perfect place to be.”
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