New U.S. citizens sworn in at first naturalization ceremony at White Sox park

Two dozen people, ages 18 to 80, from 17 countries, were sworn in before the early afternoon game between the White Sox and Los Angeles Angels.

SHARE New U.S. citizens sworn in at first naturalization ceremony at White Sox park
Aida “Bong” Pajarito (right), 80, who is originally from the Philippines and Taofeekat Olugbile, 37, from Nigeria, smile during a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Taofeekat Olugbile (from left), 37, from Nigeria, and Aida Pajarito, 80, from the Philippines, celebrate becoming U.S. citizens Wednesday during a naturalization ceremony at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A third squad took the field at Guaranteed Rate Field Wednesday, only this one didn’t play for Chicago or the day’s opponent — the Los Angeles Angels. They were a set of newly sworn-in Americans.

The 24-person roster included men and women from 17 countries who ranged in age from 18 to 80. They were sworn in as U.S. citizens in a naturalization ceremony before the early afternoon game.

“It’s a long process, but worth it,” said Ramadan Caysever, one of the new citizens. “I’ll be able to participate in elections, to serve on a jury, that’s empowering.”

Caysever, 39, is originally from Istanbul, but today he lives in Lake View. Despite the heat and sun, he wore a suit and tie for the ceremony, which usually happens in a courtroom.

merlin_113750372.jpg

Ramadan Caysever, 39, said he felt a “sense of accomplishment” in becoming a new citizen. He came to Chicago from Istanbul and now lives in Lake View.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In recent years, naturalization ceremonies at places of cultural significance have become more common, but this group was the first to take the oath at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The first time the ceremony was held at a sports venue in Chicago was at Wrigley Field in 2021, when 172 people became citizens.

For the Northern District of Illinois, the ceremonies are usually reserved for a 25th-floor courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building downtown. Hundreds are held there every year.

La Voz Sidebar

Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago, la sección bilingüe del Sun-Times.
la-voz-cover-photo-2.png

The Sox Park group was sworn in by Judge Marvin Aspen, who stood at home plate and wore a White Sox cap as he led the group through the naturalization oath. The group stood in front of the pitcher’s mound holding American flags.

As part of the process, the group had to study American history and government for a citizenship test, but Aspen reiterated that history in a speech before the oath, as a reminder to the fans listening in the stands.

“Most all American citizens can trace their family roots to immigrants, and such was the case at the very beginning,” Aspen said. “Our nation was founded by brilliant and courageous immigrants and the sons of immigrants.”

Many watching from the stands might be born citizens, Aspen said, but the legacy of the country’s founders lives on in those like the group on the South Side “who have made a conscious decision, as did our forefathers, to become a part of our great democracy.”

A lawyer affirmed for the judge that “each had been personally examined under oath by a designated officer” and had passed an exam on the “English language and knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and principles of the government of the United States.”

“Each of you has been found to be a person of good moral character” said White Sox lawyer Sheldon Zenner, “and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.”

After they took the oath, Aspen and Sox manager Pedro Grifol walked through the group handing out White Sox caps and shaking hands.

“Thank you so, so much,” declared Aida Pajarito, taking the judge’s hand.

Pajarito, who turns 81 on July 4, moved to Illinois in 2008 after retiring in the Philippines, where she worked as a government accountant. She originally moved to Des Plaines, where she had family, but has since moved to the South Side.

She imagined that becoming a citizen would make a big difference because she’d be able to access health insurance. “In the Philippines, if you have no money, you will die,” she said.

Aida “Bong” Pajarito, 80, who is originally from the Philippines, shakes hands with Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois after a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Aspen. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Aida Pajarito shakes hands with Judge Marvin Aspen of the Northern District of Illinois. Pajarito retired as an accountant before coming to the U.S. in 2008.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

After the ceremony, she and the others moved to a suite to watch the game and were also treated to lunch.

Birane Badiane took his lunch to go. The Senegal native came to the U.S. six years ago as a refugee and now works at a restaurant as a cook. Within an hour of becoming a citizen, the 33-year-old was back on his way into work, but he was still all smiles.

“I’m so happy,” he said. “I’m so happy.”

New U.S. citizens stand with players of the White Sox as they listen to the national anthem after a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens stand with the White Sox before Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels. The White Sox lost 12-5.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens hold American flags during a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The new citizens had to study American history and government and pass a citizenship test.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens recite the Pledge of Allegiance while holding American flags during a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens recite the Pledge of Allegiance while holding American flags.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens wave to the camera after a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field during the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens watch the White Sox-Angels game in a suite. They were treated to lunch after their swearing-in.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mohammad Rahman, 61, a new U.S. citizen, holds an American flag during a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mohammad Rahman, 61, a new U.S. citizen, holds an American flag during the naturalization ceremony.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens put their hands on their chest while listening to the national anthem during a naturalization ceremony on Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox v.s. Los Angeles Angels game, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Twenty-four people from 17 different countries became U.S. citizens after being sworn in by Hon. Marvin E. Aspen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

New U.S. citizens stand for the national anthem.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

The Latest
Some Democrats issued statements of strong support for the vice president, others stayed mum, for now — with just weeks to go before the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Chicago on Aug. 19.
The band is now making money on the road, a turn that vocalist Katie Gavin calls ‘a game-changer.’
Thorpe lowers ERA to 3.03 in fifth straight start with 2 or fewer runs allowed.
A 50-year-old woman was treated at the scene for minor injuries in the 5100 block of South Loomis Street.
“You have to accept you might be in another place the next week, that’s just something you have to eat.”