SALEM — The air was thick with a mixture of excitement, accomplishment, and anticipation as families and friends took photos along the scenic Salem Harbor. “Sweet Caroline” and “Proud to be an American” blasted from the speakers. A voter registration booth sat at one side of the tent, a long table of refreshments at the other.
It was the day 29 individuals had spent years, countless background checks, $775 in application fees, and crossed many more obstacles to reach.
On Sept. 17, The House of the Seven Gables hosted its third naturalization ceremony. This ceremony, however, was different from ones in the past. The date held triple significance: it was Constitution Day, which celebrates the ratification of the United States Constitution; Citizenship Day, which recognizes those who are new citizens; and was part of Welcoming Week, a nationwide movement that welcomes and celebrates new Americans and their contributions.
Maria Rodriguez, 73, was among the individuals gaining citizenship. Rodriguez came to America from the Dominican Republic with her husband in the early 1980s. She’s lived in the United States for the past 39 years and decided to begin the naturalization process just two years ago.
Rodriguez’s daughter, Quelis Figueroa, is a resident of Lawrence and was among the crowd of more than 80 people.
“[My mom] is grateful for this country, wants to be a part of it, and wants to have a voice,”
Although English isn’t her first language, Rodriguez was able to study for the naturalization exam by watching YouTube videos in Spanish, according to her daughter. She was able to take the test in Spanish.
Her work came to fruition on Sept. 17, and when asked what the first thing she’d do after achieving citizenship, she said she’d register to vote.
The House of the Seven Gables, which celebrated its 350th anniversary last year, has historically served and supported immigrants in the North Shore community. When preservationist and philanthropist Caroline Emmerton purchased the famous mansion in 1908, she turned it into a museum. She used the proceeds to fund settlement work and to help immigrants succeed in their new community.
More than 100 years later, The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association continues to support the immigrant community by offering adult English language lessons, citizenship classes, summer school programs for English language learners, and a series of community conversations about topics related to immigration.
Some individuals who became naturalized at the ceremony took classes sponsored by the association.
“These are some of the most committed students I encounter. . . . They are parents, they have jobs, and they take classes at night right up to the day of their interviews,” said Elsabel Rincon, manager of the Settlement Programs at the Gables. “Some take a whole year to prepare for this.”
Following the Oath of Allegiance, US District Court Judge Frank J. Bailey spoke to the new citizens.
“It would be easy for us to look at one another and say we are not the same. We all come from different principles, political philosophies, but here in the United States, that’s what makes us stronger,” Bailey said.
He also encouraged the new citizens to register at the voter registration booth.
“I keep asking [my mother] ‘Why did you decide to become naturalized after so many years?’ She said she feels like this is the appropriate time,” Figueroa said. “You’re never too old to keep going, and we’re really proud of her.”