PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio - Hanaa al-Baaj's parents brought her to the United States in 1994. Saleh al-Misawi's made the trip the following year. Both families fled Iraq and left most of their possessions behind in the Middle Eastern nation.
Yesterday the couple, who were married in 1996, were among 23 people who became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony in the shadow of the 325-foot-tall Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial.
“We are very happy. We are glad to live in the U.S.,” said Mr. al-Misawi, 31, who is a cook at Charlie's Restaurant in Springfield Township. Ms. al-Baaj, 28, raises their daughter at their West Toledo apartment.
The ceremony attracted several hundred people, including friends and relatives of the new citizens and vacationers who came to this Lake Erie resort island for the July 4 holiday festivities. They gathered in brilliant late-morning sun.
Temperatures were in the 90s, but a gentle lake breeze provided some relief.
Usually held in federal court in Toledo, the naturalization ceremony featured several speakers, including William T. Bodoh, chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were fresh on many minds, with several speakers praising the United States as a place where people of different nationalities can live side by side in peace.
“There is no more appropriate day to become citizens than today,” Judge Bodoh said.
The Declaration of Independence, signed 226 years earlier, was a “treacherous, treasonous document” signed by brave men who risked their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” for freedom, he said.
“We don't fight each other over our races, our religions, our ancestry,” Judge Bodoh said.
Andrew Massey agreed.
“All around the world, there is strife, conflict, and hatred, and most of it is based on divisions among people,'' said Mr. Massey, the recently retired musical director of the Toledo Symphony, who became a U.S. citizen during the special ceremony.
The terrorist attacks represented an attempt by certain parties to inflict death in pursuit of their aims, Mr. Massey said. “But we can be sure that here, of all places, such tyranny and evil shall not prevail,'' he said, his words nearly drowned out by Ohio Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets that flew over the island.
Afterward, Mr. al-Misawi and Ms. al-Baaj said they were appalled by the Sept. 11 attacks. “Americans don't deserve that - this is a place where people are free,'' she said. “I don't know what those people are doing.”
Becoming citizens within seven years of their U.S. arrivals, the two Iraqis were on a fast track compared with others in the group.
Marsella Rogers, 38, was in the United States for 20 years before becoming a citizen. She met her husband, Chuck Rogers, while he was playing Mexican League baseball in her hometown, Villa Hermosa Tabasco.
“I am very proud to be becoming a citizen. It's a great country,” said Mrs. Rogers. Married in 1983, she is raising two children in Findlay.
Rosa Estrada-Hernandez, 37, emigrated from Mexico at 16 to find work. She is employed by an Upper Sandusky factory. “It's a very patriotic first day,” Ms. Estrada said.
Beth Ledesma, a co-worker and friend, said she was amazed by Ms. Estrada's diligence in pursuing citizenship.
“I thought you just filled out a few forms and that was it, but the studying is incredible,” Ms. Ledesma said. “She was working 101/2[-hour] days, five days a week, and raising three kids by herself. It was cramming a few minutes [of study] in here, a few minutes there. And now she probably knows more about current events than we do.”
Ohio Auditor Jim Petro, the keynote speaker, acknowledged the effort required for naturalization - “for us [natives], it's easy; for you, it's a challenge” - and urged the new citizens to pursue education, information, and justice.
“My fondest wish for all of you is to love your country not for its power and wealth but for its selflessness and idealism,” Mr. Petro said, quoting a 1992 speech by former President Ronald Reagan.
Sept. 11 wasn't the only recent world event to arise during the ceremony. Before leading the new citizens in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Paul Moon, an Ottawa County common pleas judge, alluded to a June 26 federal appeals court ruling in California that the words “under God” represent an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. “This is the North Coast, not the West Coast,'' Judge Moon said. “The Pledge of Allegiance here still has all the gusto that it ever had.”
The following people, listed by native country, were naturalized:
Canada - Karrie Williams-Baker, Kenneth and Myra McClure.
India - Prabir Chaudhuri, Yatindra Koneru, Jasumati Vyas.
Iraq - Hanaa al-Baaj, Saleh al-Misawi.
Jordan - Aysheh Mansour, Rula Gammoh.
Korea - Yun Lee.
Lebanon - Riad Fakhouri.
Mexico - J. Natividad Dominguez-Cardenas, Maria Espinosa-Dobbs, Rosa Estrada-Hernandez, Delfino Garcia de Leon, Modesto Gomez, Jr., Marsella Rogers, Altagracia Ybarra.
Taiwan - Michael Hseih.
Vietnam - Kihn Luan Huynh.
United Kingdom - Ethel Ellender, Andrew Massey.41.00809 16.72701