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Perfect setting for new citizens

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By Arin McKenna

Fifteen new citizens swore their Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America under the towering cliffs of Bandelier National Monument on the Fourth of July. The new citizens heralded from far-flung places like Australia, Russia, Sri Lanka, Mexico and other countries.

Chief United States District Judge M. Christina Armijo presided over the ceremony. Armijo reminded the new citizens of not only their rights as citizens but their responsibilities. 

“Citizenship is a privilege that should never be taken for granted. And with the privilege of citizenship that now binds us, so too come the responsibilities that each of us must acknowledge and undertake,” Armijo said. “Democracy can only succeed with the participation of all its citizens.” 

Armijo urged participants not only vote but to be active in their communities in any number of ways: serving on a board, running for office or lending a hand to those less fortunate.

Keynote speaker Bandelier National Monument Superintendent Jason Lott, special speaker Los Alamos County Administrator Harry Burgess and Andrew Black, representing Sen. Martin Heinrich, echoed those sentiments.

Armijo also shared a more personal story from her family’s history. Armijo’s family arrived in New Mexico during the Spanish Colonial period. Her grandmother was 16 years old in 1912 when New Mexico achieved statehood. 

Armijo read passages from her grandmother’s journal describing how the news was received in Las Vegas, N.M. Everything from church bells to train whistles heralded Congress’ approval of the New Mexico Constitution and decision to grant statehood and “the only conversations that could be heard” were about what statehood would mean to the residents of New Mexico. 

Eugene and Brigitta Kovalenko sang the National Anthem. 

Eugene’s father was a naturalized citizen from the Ukraine. Brigitta is a naturalized citizen from Sweden. 

The new citizens each received a U.S. flag that had been flown over the state capitol, a one-year pass to Bandelier National Monument and the Bandelier movie “Sky Island,” courtesy of the Western National Parks Association. 

No Los Alamos residents took the oath during this year’s ceremony. 

Included were candidates from Australia, Canada, Eduador, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom. 

In his keynote speech, Lott told them: “America is the land of opportunity, where citizens have the freedom to pursue their dreams, a place in which everyone has the choice to make a difference in their community. . . Be a good neighbor, understand and support the privileges of others to have their opinions and beliefs. . . give more than you take, and expect the best.”

This is the second year the monument has hosted the ceremony. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded the Bandelier Incident Command Team the USCIS Directors Award for Partnerships to recognize their work and collaboration with the USCIS on last year’s event. Chief Ranger Tom Betts organized both this year’s and last year’s events. 

Many of last year’s collaborators assisted with this year’s event as well. Atomic City Transit provided a special bus for participants; Eagle Scout Troop 129 posted the colors, the Los Alamos Rotary Club provided refreshments and the Naranjo Family Dancers performed the Butterfly Dance.  

Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover was on hand after the ceremony to register the new citizens to vote.