'Never forget where you are from,' Ullman tells new citizens

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Swearing away allegiance to "any foreign prince, potentate state or sovereign," 71 people from 31 countries became Americans at Monticello yesterday morning.

"Never forget where you are from," said keynote speaker Tracey Ullman. "You're not supposed to."

Ullman, the comedian and actress, is herself a naturalized citizen, having been born in Slough, England.

She recalled the terrifying promise that America offered.

"America seemed to say, 'You want it? Come and get it. But you're on your own,'" she said.

Growing up in England, she remembered thinking of Americans as people with "white teeth and confidence."

Ullman had lived and worked in America for years before she took the final step of becoming a citizen. (She jokingly described her career: "And let's face it: If I hadn't headed west and created 'The 'Tracey Ullman Show,' 'The Simpsons' might never have existed.")

"I'd become an American minus the paperwork," said Ullman, whose TV show featured the debut of the Matt Groening cartoon.

After the ceremony, Ullman said having the paperwork out of the way did change the way she viewed herself and her adopted country.

"Old cynic that I am, you really belong," she said.

Yesterday was Juan Esteves Dao's chance to belong.

The 2005 University of Virginia graduate and Charlottesville resident has an attachment to Thomas Jefferson, he said.

"I was a tour guide at U.Va.," the Venezuela native said. "And, as all tour guides at U.Va., I was obsessed with Thomas Jefferson."

He said, "Being able to be here on his property on July Fourth is so incredible."

The ceremony was the 48th at Jefferson's mountaintop home. It featured an earlier start time, 9 a.m., to beat the summer heat, and a new opening -- the ringing of Jefferson's gong, said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello.

Mentioned by two speakers was Jefferson's owning of slaves, even as he wrote that "all men are created equal."

Bowman said Jefferson had "the courage to put in pen what he couldn't live in life." Ullman imagined herself asking the president questions, ending with one about his owning slaves. "That's a tricky one, that," she pictured him saying, before shooing her to the garden.

The new citizens were also urged to strongly participate in their new country.

"Jefferson's vision for those words was more than the American Revolution which ensued," Bowman said.

Some of the inductees who spoke also addressed America's government.

"I have come to appreciate what a truly remarkable system of government the Founding Fathers left us," said Rich Keffert, a native of Sussex, England, who has lived in America for 21 years.

Speakers noticed that the ceremony was being conducted with both sun and moon in the sky.

"My grandfather always used to say that when the moon is face down, it's pouring good fortune on all those below," remarked Chief Judge Glen E. Conrad of the U.S. District Court for Western Virginia, who oversaw the swearing in.

Ted Strong is a staff writer for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.