When Michelle Marti was asked to provide entertainment for children before the start of a March 10 naturalization ceremony at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts, she didn’t know that she’d also be a participant.
But days later, Marti, who was born in Australia, learned that her journey to become a U.S. citizen would be complete at that very same event.
Marti moved to the U.S. in 2003 when she married an American. She said she wanted to become a citizen because she believes a sense of belonging is important.
“It’s important to do my part to support this country, and until now I haven’t felt fully a part of the country because I can’t vote. I don’t feel like I have a voice,” the Indianapolis resident said. “I do a lot of volunteer work, so I feel like I support our communities within the cities where I have lived, but I don’t feel like I have 100 percent of a voice, and I think that’s important in the place that you’re living.”
Marti joined nearly 100 other foreign-born Hoosiers from more than 41 nations in taking the oath of citizenship during the ceremony, which temporarily transformed the Palladium into a venue of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Judge Robyn L. Moberly presided over the ceremony.
“Virtually everything we have of value in this country, from our political freedoms to our economic progress, was in some very positive way influenced by immigrants,” Moberly said.
The naturalization ceremony was the first event of its kind at the Palladium. Scott Hall, director of communications for the Center for the Performing Arts, said the center’s director of education and community engagement heard that naturalization ceremonies could be held at sites other than courtrooms and contacted the U.S. District Court to see if it could be held at the Palladium.
The Indiana Wind Symphony, a resident company of the Center for the Performing Arts, performed patriotic songs before the event and the national anthem during it. The ceremony included the pledge of allegiance led by the youngest new citizen, Franklin Central High School senior Cherry Singeso Hajcha, and an American flag presentation to the oldest new citizen, Nagafa Nazlawi.
One notable absence from the ceremony: handshakes. Moberly asked the new citizens to refrain from the tradition upon receiving their Certificate of Naturalization at the end of the program to prevent the potential spread of coronavirus.
After the ceremony, many of the new citizens registered to vote in the Palladium lobby.
Amdaway Ibrahim, a native of Ghana who moved to the U.S. in 2008 to study social work at Washington University in St. Louis, said he began the process of becoming a citizen in 2013. He said he felt “very happy” and “elated” to reach the end of the journey.
“America is the greatest country in the world right now. I like the Constitution, the freedoms and the customs, so that’s why I became a citizen,” said Ibrahim, a therapist and Lawrence resident. “I’ve been here for 12 years and I just love everything.”
Marriage brought Angham Elsharaiha to the U.S. five years ago. The Indianapolis resident said she is glad to now be able to call his home country her own.
“I know there are millions of people who would like to be in my shoes today,” she said. “So, I’m thankful.”
The road to naturalization
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, individuals must meet several requirements before applying for naturalization. Applicants must:
- Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing an application
- Be a permanent resident for at least 5 years.
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English.
- Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government.
- Be a person of good moral character.
- Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
Learn more at uscis.gov/citizenship/educators/naturalization-information.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services