Court Celebrates New Citizens, in Living Color
Christa Berry, clerk of court for the District of Maine, has loved taking pictures ever since she enrolled in a college photography class. So when the display case that sat in the lobby of the Gignoux Federal Courthouse in Portland needed new material, she volunteered her services to Senior Judge D. Brock Hornby.
“I normally administer the oath during the naturalization ceremonies, but this time I asked if I could take pictures of the new citizens for our display case,” Berry said. Hornby agreed and Berry came to the March 16 ceremony with a camera and a mission.
“I made sure to ask everyone if they minded having their picture taken beforehand, and I just started taking photos,” Berry said.
Thirty-nine new citizens attended the naturalization ceremony, hailing from 26 different countries, including Rwanda, Ireland, and Peru. And Berry captured almost all of them with her camera. She wasn’t sure what the reaction would be, but to her surprise, people began to smile and motion toward her. Eventually, most of the people at the ceremony asked if she could take their photos. “I got shots of almost everyone. And then after the ceremony, everyone wanted photos with Judge Hornby, so I got those shots too.”
“They were excited,” Hornby said. “The ceremony was a wonderful experience. They all are. Naturalization ceremonies are one the few courtroom events where nobody loses.”
And when all the photos were taken, everyone had the same question: Where could they get their pictures?
“It took me by surprise,” Berry said. “My only intention was to take photos for the display case. I hadn’t anticipated how many people would want their photos to keep.”
Berry took their email addresses, and after the ceremony, she and Judge Hornby put their heads together. “We decided the best thing to do would be to make all of the photos available on our courthouse website," Berry said. "That way they would all be in one central location.”
She picked out the best of the hundreds of photos she’d taken that day, and put 209 images on the district’s website. While federal courts across the country play a central role in naturalizing citizens, only a small number of courts celebrate newly naturalized citizens with online photo displays.
Visit the page where the photos are housed, and each face seems to tell its own unique story: mothers and daughters with beaming smiles; an older woman with braids and wisdom lines and a penetrating gaze; the toddler in a onesie, held by her father in the center, as if to show who is more important. Most of the shots are taken portrait style, with the subject in sharp focus and the background blurred.
This human side of naturalization ceremonies strikes a personal chord with Hornby. In addition to presiding over them, he is a naturalized citizen himself. Hornby was born in Canada and was naturalized in Virginia nearly fifty years ago.
“It’s hard not to tear up sometimes during the ceremonies,” he said. “I had a green card. I had to pass an exam. I have a pretty deep insight into the process these people had to go through.”
Hornby makes it a point to shake hands with everyone he swears in. This time, each handshake was captured on camera, and the smiles of the new citizens will grace the courthouse display case and the district’s website.
“Putting the photos on our website has two benefits,” Berry said. “First, families and loved ones can access and download the photos for personal use. Second, the court doesn’t get many opportunities to reach out and celebrate the community. Most of the people who come here are lawyers, litigants, witnesses, or jurors. This gives us a chance to do public outreach.”
And if given the chance, Berry would like to take the outreach a bit further.
“Ideally, I’d like to meet each new citizen from that day and write a brief narrative for the display case,” she said. “I want to introduce them to our community here in Maine.”
Related Topics: Events and Ceremonies