Members of the Salem Choral Society sang for the naturalization ceremony for 39 new citizens in the United States District Court in downtown Roanoke on April 28.
Initially, the idea was for choral society members to spread out in the audience and stand up one by one to start singing, in a “flash mob” idea. But the printed program listed the Salem Choral Society and after United States District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon announced Director Reed Carter would sing “God Bless America,” members joined in.
After the new citizens were sworn in and presented their certificates, choral society members in a group sang “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” by Irving Berlin, with words taken from the Statue of Liberty.
The judge invited new Americans to say anything they wanted about becoming citizens. Mpoye Jean from the African nation of Burundi asked his son to translate for him. “I have not had a home country since 1972,” Jean said. He had been a refugee in several countries on his journey to the United States.
Julia Damaris Gonzalez and Geisy Cobas Gonzales emigrated from Cuba. Julia said she had planned to speak, but once the choral society started singing “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” she was too choked up to do so, according to choral society member George Seymore.
Other new citizens were from Mexico, Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, Ethiopia, Columbia, Turkey, Iraq, Kenya, Thailand, Honduras, Burma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Honduras, Switzerland, India, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Germany, Egypt, the Philippines and El Salvador.
The Salem Choral Society has already been asked to return to perform at Naturalization Ceremonies in December, and has accepted, Carter said.
On May 7, the Salem Choral Society again performed “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” as part of its spring concert at Salem Presbyterian Church. The next concert is scheduled for July 2 at 4 p.m. in Shiloh Baptist Church in Salem. The concert is free.
- Meg Hibbert