125 Immigrants Take Citizenship Oath on Lady Liberty's Birthday
LIBERTY ISLAND — The Statue of Liberty celebrated her 125th birthday Friday, with a towering cake, military salutes and the joyful tears of 125 newly minted American citizens.
The festivities on Liberty Island Friday morning included an alternately solemn and jubilant naturalization ceremony for the 125 immigrants from 46 countries — one person representing each year since the Statue of Liberty was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886.
"She's the symbol, but you're the reality," David Luchsinger, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, told the rows of new citizens waving American flags in Lady Liberty's shadow.
"This country is built on its citizens," Luchsinger continued. "Her torch is as bright as what you will make it to be."
In the 125 years since France formally presented Frederic Auguste Bartholdi's "Liberty Enlightening the World" to the United States, the 151-foot statue has welcomed millions of immigrants to America's shores and has become an international symbol of freedom.
Those who pledged allegiance to the United States for the first time Friday morning said they were proud to share the day with Lady Liberty's anniversary.
"It's amazing," said Maria Moran, 40, an East Harlem resident who came to New York from Guatemala in 1988 and took her oath of citizenship Friday.
"It's a dream come true. It's been a challenge and a big step. It's an honor."
Maria Medrano, 56, a Harlem resident from the Dominican Republic, said she was excited to take on the privileges and responsibilities that come with citizenship.
"I wanted to be able to vote, and I wanted to have the same American feeling everyone has who was born here," she said in Spanish, with her son interpreting.
At a dignitary-packed ceremony later in the morning, Sigourney Weaver read the Emma Lazarus poem "The New Colossus," which permanently linked Lady Liberty to immigration, and students from the Brooklyn School of the Arts sang "Huddled Masses," a song based on the poem.
Officials also launched five "torch cams" from the top of the Statue of Liberty, which are now streaming panoramic views of New York Harbor and Lady Liberty 24 hours a day.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the stage to note that the Statue of Liberty still exerts a potent hold on many New Yorkers, even if they have seen her outstretched arm and glowing torch hundreds of times.
"Her powers do not wane," Bloomberg said. "They are as timeless as the ideals she has come to represent."
After the ceremony, cannons on Liberty Island boomed and a flotilla of vessels in New York Harbor answered with a chorus of horns as a fireboat shot streams of water high into the air.
Off to the side, tourists and National Park Service workers cheered as Buddy Valastro from TLC's "Cake Boss" wheeled an enormous, sugary Statue of Liberty into view.
The patina green-frosted cake took Valastro's crews three days to make, he said.
"We had so much fun building Lady Liberty," he told the crowd. "This is who we are."
Following the celebration, the statue and its base are closing Saturday for a year of renovations and safety upgrades, reopening in the fall of 2012.