The Citizen’s Journey
What: Naturalization Ceremony
When: Wednesday, July 3rd • 4 p.m.
Where: Garrison Lawn at Fort Johnston
203 E. Bay Street, Southport
Info: (910) 457-6964
As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, Americans prepare to celebrate their independence with lots of fireworks, red-white-and-blue flag cakes, and tons of hamburgers and hot dogs.
However, more than 100 Americans-to-be are expected to celebrate their first Independence Day as official US citizens after the annual Southport Naturalization Ceremony on Wednesday, July 3rd. The Naturalization Ceremony is a partnership between the NC 4th of July Festival and the US Department of Homeland Security’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Last year, Ozlem, or “Oz,” Nichols and her husband, Mike, celebrated her citizenship at the Southport ceremony with friends and family in attendance to show their support.
“They had a beautiful ceremony; it was right on the water and there were people from all over the world,” Oz remembers. “Everyone was very welcoming.”
The couple met as graduate students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1997. Oz is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, and she says that she had every intention of returning to her home country upon earning her PhD—but that changed when she met her future husband.
“That was the first time that I came to this country. I was accepted for a [biology] PhD program, and Mike was in his third year,” Oz recalls with a smile. “I wanted to teach at the college I graduated from [in Turkey], and plans changed.”
Unlike what the process to citizenship used to be, the couple says even after they got married, it was not so easy or quick for Oz to become a US citizen.
“After 9/11 they changed it a lot,” she tells. “Before that you would have your green card right away, but we got married after 9/11, and there was a waiting period of about three years, or it’s a conditional card.”
Mike shares that a difference between Oz and other people was that, instead of hiring a lawyer to complete the extensive paperwork for her green card, she opted to do the long and tedious stack of work herself.
Oz explains that once granted, the green card has to be held for three to five years before the candidate is eligible for naturalization. Then begins the learning of US history and government, which Mike admits sometimes stumped him.
“During that process, she was quizzing me on things that she actually knew better than I did,” he laughs.
“We were already married, but we had heard all the horror stories of getting a green card, where they interview you and they’ll ask questions like, “What’s the first thing she did when she woke up?’” Mike explained. “They’re trying to test to see if you’re actually living together, but they didn’t really hassle us.”
For almost a decade, co-chairs of the naturalization committee, Fran and Ted Carlsen, have witnessed hundreds of people reach citizenship, and while nothing typically changes in each year’s ceremony, Ted says it brings about special moments.
“There is nothing new or different this year,” he explains. “We believe the ritual and nature of our ceremony maintains the solemnity of the event while ensuring it is a memorable time in the new citizens’ lives.”
The award-winning Naturalization Ceremony of Southport is part of the city’s annual NC 4th of July Festival. The festival, where all Americans are encouraged to take part, has wholeheartedly welcomed new citizens since the ceremony’s inception in 1996.
“This ceremony is an important event for any US citizen,” Carlsen assures. “It epitomizes the granting and the cherished nature of US citizenship. In fact, our guest speaker this year, District Court Judge Marion Warren [13th Judicial District], is postponing his normal family vacation to ensure his children attend as a lesson in civics.”
Judge Warren, who has served in Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties, is a native of Brunswick County. He has a background in community involvement, having worked extensively with the Baptist Church, the Shallotte Masonic Lodge, the Waccamaw Volunteer Fire Department, and a number of other local organizations.
The Naturalization Ceremony, held at the Fort Johnston Garrison Lawn in Southport (203 E. Bay St.), will be preceded by a performance from the Brunswick Concert Band. The group will play from 3 p.m. until 3:45 p.m. at Garrison Lawn. The Brunswick County Board of Elections will also host voter registration from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Southport Community Building (223 E. Bay Street).
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Quartet will sing the National Anthem during the Naturalization Ceremony. Other participants include the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard; the Southport Community Choir; the Southport Historical Society; St. James Fire Department Fire Police; and local singer and DJ Rodney Axom.
United States flags will be provided to all new citizens by the Brunswick Town Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The organization also will host a reception immediately after the ceremony for the new citizens, their friends and families, as well as invited guests.
With this milestone already behind them, Oz and Mike will celebrate Independence Day with their two children, Lily and Tyler, whom Oz was pregnant with at last year’s Naturalization Ceremony. Celebrating this Fourth of July in full force, though rarely served at the dinner table, the couple says they look forward to hot dogs fresh off the grill.
The new citizens will represent 48 countries from 7 regions around the world:
NC 4th of July Festival Naturalization Ceremony Data
COUNTRIES AND NUMBER OF CITIZENS:
CHINA, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Central America & Caribbean
North America (Canada & Mexico)