Thirty Brandon area residents become American citizens
BRANDON — Two Canadians who moved to Vermont in September 2001 became U.S. citizens last week at the Neshobe School in Brandon.
Bryan Holland, 38, from Newfoundland, began his volunteer rescue career in Essex on Sept. 11, 2001. Arabella Finlayson, 41, moved to Burlington from Halifax, Nova Scotia, a few weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
“It definitely made some of my relatives nervous,” she said. “ But I really wanted to be here.”
For Holland, becoming a citizen on May 8 gives more meaning to his role as a member of Vermont’s Civil Air Patrol, a volunteer auxiliary of the United States Air Force. The Vermont “wing” of CAP is headquartered in South Burlington and has six squadrons located throughout Vermont.
“Being an official U.S. citizen gives me more powers in the Civil Air Patrol,” Holland said, standing with his wife, Kim, and their three-year-old daughter, Claire. “But I’ve always had the allegiance to protect my family’s country.”
Thirty people took the oath of citizenship at the official court proceeding presided over by Judge Colleen Brown in the Neshobe School gymnasium. The annual event has drawn as many as 65 new citizens in past years with family members, friends and students attending the stirring ceremony.
In her opening remarks, Judge Brown extolled both the virtues of America and the shortcomings. She spoke of the rights citizens have, such as freedom of expression, and the fact that we must respect that right in each other as Americans.
“The United States is more of a collage than a melting pot,” Brown said in her remarks. “The magic is that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. And you are helping to enrich the United States’ diversity. We look forward to you sharing your gifts with us.”
It is those gifts, those customs, those talents that Brown said enables the United States to enjoy an enduring legacy of diversity.
“It is a simultaneous single community, yet it retains the rich history of different cultures,” she added. “We would not be the United States without ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. It is by welcoming people from around the world that the United States has become the vibrant country it is today.”
She also spoke of dark times in U.S. history.
“The U.S. is not proud of how it treated Native Americans, or of the atrocities in Abu Ghraib,” Brown said. “Or what we have done to denigrate the earth. But we do not hide what happened. We discuss it openly and move forward.”
Judge Brown closed her remarks by encouraging the new citizens to be active in the American democracy.
“Democracy is often a slow and frustrating way to make decisions,” she said. “But in order for it to work effectively, everyone must participate.”
The event was highlighted by the fifth- and sixth-grade Neshobe School Chorus singing patriotic songs, including the “Star Spangled Banner,” “My America,” and “This Is My Country.” There was also a recitation and explanation of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
The Maiden Vermont women’s barbershop chorus also made its annual appearance performing at the ceremony, courtesy of Neshobe guidance counselor Laurie Cox, who sings in the group.
The new citizens hail from all over the world: Somalia, Iraq, Burundi, Poland, Panama, Canada, Sudan, Poland, El Salvador, Sweden, Ireland, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to namejust a few.
Anne Fataki, 32, of Burlington, sat with the other new citizens dressed in a striking pink-and-white dress along with her four-year-old daughter, Carmelle Mukeba. Fataki came to the U.S. five years ago from the Congo in Africa. Her daughter was born here and therefore is already a U.S. citizen. Fataki said it only took her three months to complete her citizenship requirements. The quiet and reserved mother can now join her daughter and husband, Jules Mukeba, as an American family.
It has taken a bit longer for Arabella Finlayson to get to this point, and she couldn’t be happier, especially when it comes to two of America’s founding principles: taxes and the right to vote.
“It’s really, honestly, annoying to pay taxes and not be able to vote,” she said with a laugh. “I’m excited and nervous and looking forward to feeling totally at home here.”