America’s youngest citizens reflect on patriotism at Philly naturalization ceremony

“It’s just respecting your country, even if you don’t agree with everything that is going on or everything that is said," said Kayla Davis of West Philly.

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Philadelphia welcomed 13 children, one for each of the 13 original colonies, as the country’s newest naturalized citizens Wednesday at the historic house where Betsy Ross may have sewed the nation’s first flag on the eve of the Revolutionary War — a July 4th tradition for the past 15 years.

The kids, who swore allegiance to the U.S. constitution and its laws in the mid-afternoon heat, originally came from seven countries including China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Vietnam, Pakistan, and India. Each brought with them a different immigration experience, and ideas about what patriotism means to them at a time when Americans have mixed views about the direction the country is headed.

A Gallup poll out Monday found only 47 percent of Americans are “extremely proud” to be one — down from a high of 70 percent 15 years ago. And over the past year, fights over the National Anthem at football games and how to treat immigrants to this country have further divided the nation.

For 14-year old Asad Ali, becoming a U.S. citizen has been full of mostly positive adjustments.

“It has a very diverse community, traditions, school systems,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to get used to, but once you get used to it and feel comfortable, it’s very good. I mean, I love it.”

Asad and his three siblings, who were also naturalized Wednesday, moved from Pakistan to Upper Darby a year and a half ago, and were naturalized through their father, who manages a Popeyes restaurant.

While Pakistan’s independence day on August 14 is still an important holiday in his family, Asad says the thing that makes him most proud to be a new American citizen is his school.

“I actually love the education system,” he said. “It took me about a month to get to know all my teachers, and now that everyone knows me, it’s really great.”

His sister, Gulghotai, says she’s enjoying taking elective classes, which is a new concept for her.

“In Pakistan, you didn’t have many choices [for classes,] but here you can take more what you like. It’s fun,” said the 11-year-old, who is an aspiring artist.

When he was still living in Pakistan, Asad said he learned English through books and movies, which gave him some ideas about American pride. But he says he’s already noticed some things this country does not take as much pride in.

“The roads – I thought it was going to be like the freeway — like all smooth and stuff. And when I got to Philly it was all bumpy with potholes,” he said. “I was like well, why don’t they just fix it?”

The naturalization ceremony also included a full color guard, a welcome from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and participation from descendants of the Revolutionary War. Kayla Davis, a girl scout from West Philadelphia and a senior at Central High School, was also there to welcome the new citizens. She won the scouts’ Gold Award for a project promoting religious freedom, which focused on inclusivity at a time when some displays of anti-Muslim sentiment are appearing around the country.

Kayla looks at patriotism this way: “It’s just respecting your country, even if you don’t agree with everything that is going on or everything that is said, and realizing that you do have opportunities that others do not have, especially as an American.”

Kayla’s stepmom Kristen Davis said she hopes more young people like the Ali siblings will continue to celebrate their homelands as U.S. citizens.

“Being patriotic also means embracing all of your culture,” said Davis, whose family’s heritage is African-American and Chinese. “So whether you are mixed race or you are only one, you can be all these things all at the same time.”

“And I think that a lot of times people think, ‘I need to choose’ or ‘I need to do one or the other,’ ” she said. “It’s not like that. You can be all of them and be proud of who you are.”

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