February 07, 2012

For each citizen, a story | Charleston Daily Mail

Margie Cooper used to urge her New Zealand-born husband, Grant, conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, to become a U.S. citizen. And for years he refused.

“I think he didn’t want to hurt his mother’s feelings,” Margie said.

But on Monday, Grant Cooper and 55 others took an oath, said the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the national anthem and became the United States’ newest citizens.

He said he planned to register to vote immediately after the ceremony.

“That’s one of the things I’ve missed. That and serving on a jury,” he said.

Cooper has lived in the United States for 36 years. He moved to the Charleston area 11 years ago when he took the symphony job.

Cooper said becoming a U.S. citizen was a very serious decision.

“To break that bond to one’s country of birth, it’s somber. It’s a huge decision for anybody,” he said. “It’s not something you take lightly.”

Now, Cooper has lived in Charleston longer than he’s lived anywhere else.

“I feel like I belong here,” he said.

His daughters, Rachel and Jessica, arrived in Charleston Sunday night to attend Monday’s naturalization ceremony.

“This morning my daughter said, ‘Mom, it’s like you’re getting a new husband,” Margie said.

Joseph Goodwin, chief judge of the West Virginia Southern District, presided over the ceremony, held in the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse on Quarrier Street. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin also was on hand to congratulate the new citizens.

“My fellow Americans ... those are such beautiful words, aren’t they? The promise of the American dream is now within your grasp,” Manchin said. “If anybody tells you the dream is not alive and well, they’re not telling you the truth.”

Manchin recalled a German ambassador’s 2008 visit to West Virginia. That year’s presidential election was in full swing, and then-candidate Barack Obama made a trip to Europe. More than 200,000 people came out to greet the presidential candidate.

Manchin said he asked the ambassador why so many Europeans were interested in Obama. “The gentleman said to me, ‘Do you understand that only in America can that happen?’ That a child of a mixed marriage could become the leader of the free world?’ ” he said.

Manchin, a former state delegate, state senator, governor and secretary of state, told the crowd about his own American success story.

He spoke of his grandparents, Italian and Czechoslovakian immigrants who moved to small coal mining communities about six miles apart in Marion County. Both grandfathers worked in the mines before leaving to start small grocery stores.

Manchin said his grandparents, thankful for the life they gained in the United States, instilled in him the importance of community service.

“I always knew I had to do something,” he said.

Manchin also provided each of the new citizens with pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution in memory of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Byrd always carried a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket and often gave away copies as gifts.

“Just open it up to any page and read. You’ll be surprised,” Manchin said.

Javier Bernardo Arevalo, who emigrated from Columbia, was near tears following the ceremony. “Since I was 5 or 6, the first time I came to the United States, I always wanted to live here,” he said.

Arevalo, an airline pilot, has lived in this country for about six years. He showed up for the ceremony sharply dressed in a suit and tie. His elderly parents took photos of his every move.

He said he enjoyed Manchin’s speech.

“It makes me feel glad to be here. It went straight to my heart,” he said.

By:  Zack Harold