Friday, August 11, 2000

Adopted children now part of larger American family

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Michael Cote holds daughter Anna, 2, as she is sworn in as a citizen.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        Seven months ago she lived in the rain forest of Guyana, South America. A hut was her home, a hammock her bed and a torn rag in a Coke can filled with kerosene her only light.

        On Thursday morning, 12-year-old Sheron Mead stood under a clear sky in Cincinnati, put her hand over her heart and pledged allegiance to the United States.

        She and 28 other children from 12 countries became American citizens in a special ceremony at the Cincinnati Zoo.

        The Immigration and Naturalization Service naturalizes between 1,800 and 2,000 adults and between 300 and 400 children a year in Cincinnati, but usually in mixed-age ceremonies.

        “It's exciting,” Sheron said.

        In front of a giant American flag, U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott declared the amphitheater at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens a court room for the special ceremony.

        Although children often are given citizenship certificates after INS officials interview them or their parents, the agency has been trying in recent years to conduct more citizenship ceremonies in public places.

        “It's something you remember for the rest of your life,” said Patrick Elersic, agent in charge of the Cincinnati INS office.

Sergei, 4, and Julianna Dante, 2, were adopted from Russia.
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        Yvonne and Michael Cote of Anderson Township agreed. That's why they bought an American flag charm for their 2-year-old daughter, a native of South Korea, to wear on a bracelet during the ceremony.

        “Can you say, "I'm a citizen?'” Mr. Cote cooed to his daughter, Anna Cornelia Cho Eun Cote.

        Before receiving their certificates, Anna, Sheron and the other children gathered on stage to listen to U.S. Rep. Rob Portman read a book called House Mouse, Senate Mouse, a children's story about how the U.S. government works.

        After the lesson Mr. Portman told the parents that it's not material wealth or a strong military that make the United States powerful, it's an idea called democracy.

        “As citizens they will have the opportunity to participate in this great democracy,” he said.

        After the ceremony, the new citizens chatted with each other and had refreshments. Like many, the Mead family reflected on their daughter's new citizenship. It had been a long journey from Guyana to Stout, Ohio.

        “We're medical missionaries,” said Bill Mead, Sheron's adoptive father. “We met her in the jungle where she lived. When we get to a village, we ask for widows and orphans needing help. Everybody pointed at her.”

        Now, Sheron has a new mother and father to take care of her, a home and even a weekly allowance that allows her to send money back to relatives in her homeland. She has the support and love she never had.

        “She's from the Carib tribe, which used to be the ruling tribe,” said Sheron's mother, Catherine Mead. “So I call her my princess.”

        Now, Sheron said, with her new family, she feels like one.


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