04/28/13 — N.C. Pickle Festival also celebrates new citizenship

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N.C. Pickle Festival also celebrates new citizenship

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on April 28, 2013 1:50 AM

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Cecilia Shepherd, Nareerat Down, Maria Cuellar and Nidhi Rahu Shah received their citizenship Saturday morning during the Naturalization Ceremony held at the North Carolina Pickle Festival in Mount Olive.

Surrounded by family and friends, a group of 60 men and women raised their right hands and repeated the pledge of allegiance.

But unlike a school classroom or government meeting, the crowd's repetition didn't sound like the standard drawl that accompanies the pledge. There was something a little foreign to it. Maybe the person who led it made it sound a little different -- a hint of an English accent and a bit of excitement.

During the 27th annual N.C. Pickle Festival, the group, dressed for a formal ceremony and armed with tiny American flags, took the final step to becoming American citizens -- they pledged an oath to the United States of America.

The naturalization ceremony was a short event for a large festival, and it may have been missed if one wasn't looking for it.

It only took half an hour. Festival Chairwoman Julie Beck said a few words on embracing life -- "America offers so much. Try it." -- followed by Jeffrey Sapko, Raleigh-Durham Field Office Director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who spoke about patriotism.

"We thank you for volunteering yourself as Americans and dedicating yourself to the idea of America," she said.

And then the aforementioned pledge of allegiance was spoken by all gathered at the north end of Center Street in Mount Olive, while grinning family members held up video cameras and smart phones to document the occasion.

Finally, the actual certificates were given out. Maria Cuellar was one of the first to grab her certificate.

Ms. Cuellar, originally from Mexico, first came to America to follow her son. Many years after, she decided to naturalize to make it easier for her to find a job as a nurse.

To do so, she took a course in citizenship in her town of Fuquay-Varina southwest of Raleigh. She applied in January.

Cecilia Shepherd, from Hubert, close to the coast, sat next to Ms. Cuellar. Mrs. Shepherd, originally from the Philippines, described the United States as the southeast Asian country's "big brother."

"I love America. I love democracy," she said.

Even when she was child in a Filipino school, she would say the American Pledge of Allegiance after saying the Filipino one with the rest of the school.

She originally came to America to marry Rodney Shepherd, an "old Marine" who stood proudly next to his bubbling wife.

"I can tell when she's excited because her English isn't as good," Rodney said.

"I'm very proud," she said as she struggled to find the right words. "I can't describe it. I feel big."

Ms. Beck said that the ceremony was a great partnership with the USCIS and will probably happen again next year.

"I think it was a very heartwarming experience -- to think about the challenges that the people have gone through to be where they are. It was very touching," she said.

The USCIS has a naturalization ceremony in Durham every week in its field office, but the department tries to jump around the state to make it easier for those looking to naturalize to attend a ceremony.

The country of origin with the most people at the ceremony was Mexico, but the Philippines, Vietnam and the United Kingdom had good showings as well.