It was in the Shapiro Family Courtyard, in front of the “Art of the Americas” wing at the Museum of Fine Arts that 187 immigrants from nearly every corner of the globe came together to become American citizens.
“I feel so grateful and happy,” said Guionar Sumrall, 52, a Brazilian immigrant and new U.S. citizen. “I know that God is a good God and he’s faithful to his promises.”
Sumrall said she came back to America because she met her husband here. The two bumped into each other decades ago on an MBTA train when Sumrall, now 52, was a student at the Harvard Extension School. The two fell in love, but immigration laws kept Sumrall out of the country after her studies. Years later, in 2014, she remedied the situation and was able to re-enter the United States.
“It was a very hard time, but we survived. He would visit me,” Sumrall said. “That’s why this is so important to the two of us.” The married couple now live together in Lynn.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston held its first-ever naturalization ceremony on Monday. Immigrants from 57 countries were invited to attend the special program that included words from the museum, a local poet and U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler, who presided over the ceremony.
“You are all ages. Your backgrounds are different. The journey has been long and for some difficult,” Bowler told the group.
“These ceremonies are held all over the country. In city halls, high school buildings…But you will have the privilege of saying, ‘I was at the first ceremony conducted at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,'” Bowler said to applause.
She urged the group to vote in all elections, to heed jury duties, to remember their own language and culture while also learning the new language and history, and to honor those in the U.S. military.
“You should never feel that because you are a naturalized citizen, you are in any way a second-class citizen,” Bowler said.
“In fact, you should feel more important. For rather than accept a mere birthright, you have made the decision that this is the country you want to call your home,” she added.
At the ceremony, the candidates took an official “Oath of Allegiance.” An a capella ensemble from the nearby Berklee College of Music sang triumphant contemporary tunes as well as patriotic songs. Some candidates for citizenship wore red, white and blue. Some held miniature American flags provided by the museum.
“My wish is that you always feel that the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is your home,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, the Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “That you feel welcome here, you feel invited here, you feel engaged in what we do.”
The event, coordinated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, marks the first such ceremony at the MFA.
The museum, Judge Bowler explained, is emblematic of American diversity. Art is a “unifier,” Bowler said.
“The Egyptian collection, the great Japanese collection, the French impressionists, the Dutch Golden Age,” Bowler said. “You can wander through this museum and I trust most everyone will find a connection.”
When it was over, many of the new American citizens beamed with patriotic pride, posing for photos with their citizenship certificates and American flags.
Australian woman Vera Benson came to the U.S. at the age of 58 to meet a man she had corresponded with online (now her current husband of six years). Benson said the citizenship process served as a reminder of her late parents, once Russian immigrants who became naturalized citizens in Australia.
“Now I can appreciate it. I just felt like they were with me in spirit, having come to a new country…and actually started a new life,” Benson said. “It’s just…it’s very emotional.”
Eighty-year-old Qiaoying Rong, who traveled to the U.S. from Wuhan, China and now lives in Lexington, was overjoyed at her new American citizenship status. She is legally blind and cannot speak English, but loves the ideals of America, her daughter said.
“She said, ‘I lived here for a long time,'” Rong’s daughter said, translating her mother’s words after the ceremony. “She really loves this country, and thinks the liberty and democracy are all wonderful.”