Jasmin Darznik said she felt a surge of emotions as she spoke the final words of the U.S. oath of allegiance Thursday, becoming a fully recognized American citizen after nearly 35 years in the country.
“It’s stupendous, but also a little bit tinged with sadness, because you’re leaving behind your love for another place,” she said.
The Iranian native was one of 78 new Americans from 36 different countries who received citizenship at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate Thursday — joining more than 3,000 others who have been naturalized on the grounds since 1963.
Hundreds filled the home’s west lawn for the 51st Annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony and to hear music sensation Dave Matthews, who addressed the nation’s newest citizens as Thursday’s keynote speaker.
Matthews, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, became a naturalized citizen himself in 1980 and formed his band in Charlottesville in 1991.
“This is a nation of immigrants,” he told the audience from beneath Monticello’s west portico. “Some came to find a new start, some fled tyranny, while others were brought here against their will.”
In the course of the day’s revelries, Matthews reminded his audience that there is no single American narrative. There are many Americas, he said.
“There is the America of our forefathers who signed the incredibly important Declaration of Independence. And there is the America that enslaved half a million men, women and children at the very time the Declaration of Independence was signed,” Matthews said. “Many of those who signed that document themselves owned slaves. Thomas, the great Thomas Jefferson, the brilliant Thomas Jefferson among them.”
The American birthright, Matthews said, spans the gap between jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll to the Cold War, civil rights and the atomic bomb.
“You are the newest citizens. Our history belongs to you as much as to anyone,” Matthews told the Americans to be. “You chose this country, you left your home, your people, maybe happily, but maybe with a broken heart, maybe both. … And today, this country acknowledges that you are American now as much as anyone.”
For Darznik and many others, it was a moment years in the making.
“My family and I came to America in 1979 when there was a revolution in Iran,” Darznik recounted. “We fled and were uncertain for many years if we’d stay.”
Like so many who fled the revolution, she said, it became more and more clear that it would be impossible to return.
More than three decades later, Darznik, now an English professor at Washington and Lee University, said it was a stroke of luck that brought her to Monticello.
“I was just incredibly lucky,” she said. “I had never even heard of this ceremony before. But, I did all of my exams up in D.C. and, through just great luck, was scheduled to have this particular naturalization ceremony.”
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge William F. Stone, Jr. swore in America’s newest citizens at the ceremony. Upon hearing for the first time that she was a U.S. citizen, Darznik said her thoughts went immediately to the millions of men and women in America and across the globe who hope to hear the same words some day for themselves.
“There are so many people fighting for the right to stand where I was today,” she said. “And many millions around the world for whom citizenship of this kind is totally out of reach. So I feel a great gratitude, but also mindfulness for how incredibly lucky I am.”
A sentiment all the more relevant at the ancestral home of the author of the Declaration of Independence, said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
Jefferson’s words were never meant for one particular audience, Bowman told Thursday’s crowd, but for every man and woman who embraces liberty.
“With his pen, Jefferson became the spokesman for a revolutionary generation,” Bowman said. “But, Jefferson envisioned those ideas for people everywhere. Not just for the American colonists.”
The day’s event marked Bowman’s fifth naturalization ceremony as foundation president and the first ceremony at Monticello to be broadcasted internationally live over the Internet.
“This is the greatest day of the year at Monticello,” Bowman said. “It’s the birth of our country’s great republic and a celebration of what this country has become.”