By Joseph S Pete
Original article here.
Martin Da Costa, a Munster resident with advanced degrees who works in the field of education management, had been an undocumented immigrant until he was sworn in as a new U.S. citizen during a Fourth of July naturalization ceremony.
He’s lived in the United States for 17 years and was extra motivated to complete the citizenship process because of concerns about recent political rhetoric about immigration. Da Costa wanted to be able to vote and make his voice heard in the upcoming fall election.
“We need to make America great for everyone,” he said.
Young son in arm, Da Costa registered to vote along with 49 other new U.S. citizens from 22 countries at Wolf Lake in Hammond Monday. They came from all over the globe: China, Gambia, Iraq, Mexico, Poland and Romania.
They wore suits and dresses, beaming as they received flowers, small American flags, and their citizenship papers. Loved ones in the audience held their phones aloft throughout the whole ceremony, snapping pictures and shooting videos. A widely smiling man waved as his son called out “daddy, daddy” as he strode across the stage.
U.S. District Court Northern District of Indiana Magistrate Judge Andrew Rodovich has been presiding over the annual Independence Day naturalization ceremony in Hammond for the past 30 years. It’s become a major part of the city’s Fourth of July celebrations.
“Regardless of whether it’s at a courthouse or performed here or in a high school or in a hospital room because a man wanted to become a citizen before he died, it’s a celebration of our freedom,” he said. “It shows how we continue to be a beacon of hope to everyone throughout the world.”
The United States has attracted people from all over the world seeking freedom and opportunity since it was just a collection of colonies on the Atlantic Coast, Rodovich said.
“We are a nation of immigrants,” he said. “All four of my grandparents took this same step more than 120 years ago.”
We Chan, a Gary resident who’s studying environmental engineering at Purdue University, has lived in the United States since he was seven years old. He said he didn’t feel any different after officially becoming a citizen.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “It finally happened, and it’s really cool.”
Chan and other new citizens took an oath, renouncing any allegiance to foreign “princes or potentates” and vowing to defend the United States if called upon to do so.
State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-1st District, said the immigrants choosing America helped make the country stronger. She said more than half of Americans are in a minority group, including 54 million Latinos, 18 million Asians, 9 million gay and transsexual people, and 3.15 million Muslims.
Lawson urged people to reject labels that divide Americans. She said patriotism was about more than rodeos or or eagles or flags on T-shirts. She said it’s about loving all Americans, regardless of background.
“Patriotism is a love of country and a love of its people beyond race, gender, sexuality or religion,” she said. “To love America is to love all Americans, and we have 50 new Americans today.”