In Hub, 27 celebrate their long journeys to citizenship
Lisa Anne O’Connor Dalton first saw Boston from the water a decade ago, when she sailed into the city as a crew member on one of the Tall Ships that had crossed the Atlantic. She fell for Boston, hard, and came back as soon as she could. Seven years ago, as her father was dying in Ireland, he made her promise to continue sailing in America.
Yesterday, the paralegal who also teaches blind children and adults to sail found herself on another ship: the USS Constitution, where she and 26 other immigrants officially became American citizens. O’Connor Dalton, whose team of blind and sighted sailors won a bronze medal in last year’s Blind Sailing World Championship Regatta, was accompanied by her husband, John Dalton, a man from Ireland whom she met in America.
“It couldn’t be any more fitting,’’ O’Connor Dalton said yesterday, a few minutes before she and her fellow immigrants climbed aboard Old Ironsides. “I sail beside her all the time.’’
Yesterday, on the deck of the world’s oldest commissioned warship that is still afloat, on the birthday of the country, the country’s newest citizens — 17 women and 10 men from 20 countries — were the guests of honor. They included a young Moroccan woman who won a visa through the green card lottery and now works as a housekeeper in a Boston hotel; a Brazilian woman from Medford who just finished basic training in the Army National Guard; a Wellesley College human rights leader and Harvard Law School graduate from Sri Lanka; and a husband and wife, born in India, who met at the University of Southern California and now live with their son in Newton.
The immigrants came from Barbados, Brazil, Cameroon, Cape Verde, China, France, Guyana, India, Ireland, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, Morocco, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom.
Once they were pronounced official citizens, no one grinned more broadly than Lorraine Smith of Belmont, who moved to the United States from Liberia with her family when she was a toddler. Although her parents became citizens, Smith never thought much about it.
“I wasn’t strongly motivated mostly because I grew up here, I attended college here, I joined the military all without being a citizen,’’ she said. But in 2008, as Barack Obama became the first African-American elected president, Smith felt otherwise. “I didn’t vote last time and that really bothered me,’’ she said.
The history-steeped ceremony took place on the deck of the USS Constitution, where the immigrants repeated an oath of allegiance, promising to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States against enemies, renouncing allegiance to all foreign leaders and sovereignties, and agreeing to bear arms on behalf of their new country when required by law.
“The most moving part of the ceremony is the oath of allegiance, because it’s the same oath that we’ve had for 200 years-plus,’’ said Denis Riordan, the regional director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. “It’s the same oath that my mother and father took, who were natives of Ireland.’’
Riordan’s parents became US citizens in the 1950s. He attended three naturalization ceremonies yesterday, starting the morning in Northampton and ending the day in Manchester, N.H. “People have asked me if these ceremonies ever get old or matter-of-fact,’’ he said. “And they don’t.’’
The swearing-in ceremony was one of 55 across the country around Independence Day to naturalize about 3,800 citizens. Some of them, including nine at the Charlestown ceremony, are members of the US military.
O’Connor Dalton and her husband, who live in Hull, were living in America when their fathers died. Her father didn’t tell his daughter that he was terminally ill because he didn’t want to uproot her from her new home.
“It’s amazing,’’ O’Connor Dalton said. “We’ve worked for 10 years, missing families. A lot of heartache over 10 years.’’
Dalton also applied to become a citizen. His ceremony will take place this fall in Fenway Park.
Kathleen Burge can be reached at email@example.com