Hundreds enjoyed the light breeze, gracious speeches and entertainment during the 99th Transfer Day ceremony at Fort Christiansvaern, but 44 residents will remember the event more clearly than the rest – they were sworn in as U.S. citizens.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Esther Kia’aina, assistant secretary for Interior’s Insular Areas visited the territory and participated in events on all three islands to commemorate almost a century since Denmark sold the Virgin Islands to the United States for $25 million.
Jewell began her remarks with a tribute to Pfc. Jason Lynch, a Virgin Islander who lost his life in Iraq serving his country in 2004.
She said the U.S. flag is a symbol of hope, freedom and opportunity and it is important to remember the lives of the Danish settlers and the enslaved Africans.
“The advocacy of the first U.S. Virgin Islanders paved the way for today’s new citizens,” she said, referring to the 44 recently naturalized.
The relationship and deep connections with Denmark are still important, Jewell said. The two countries should continue to collaborate since Denmark leads the word in renewable energy and the Virgin Islands leads the world in trade winds.
Jewell challenged Virgin Islanders to think about the future status of the territory and whether it should strive for statehood, become an independent country or continue as a U.S. possession – a matter of “self determination.”
Gov. Kenneth Mapp echoed Jewell’s sentiments and called on residents to look at the upcoming centennial as an opportunity to determine how the territory’s relationships should evolve over the next hundred years.
He also addressed comments to the new citizens. He congratulated them and reminded them they now are responsible for “what happens in the community and what doesn’t happen in the community.”
Delegate Stacey Plaskett also spoke and reminded the audience that the territory is still geopolitically important as a land mass and as a people – as it was when purchased by the United States in 1917. She added emphatically that the Virgin Islands should have the same rights as the 50 states.
Speaking on behalf of her government, Danish Consul General Anne Dorte Rigglesen said the historical ties between Denmark and the U.S. Virgin Islands are “complex, complicated and painful.” That history makes the territory the most richly diverse culture in the Caribbean, she said.
“Even a century later, the Virgin Islands remains an important part of Danish history,” Dorte Rigglesen said.
Denmark is planning to participate in the Centennial Celebration, according to Dorte Rigglesen, and next year will have completed archives containing 5 million scanned documents that will be available online.
Before the naturalization ceremony, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration officer Peter Torres read the new citizens’ countries of origin, including Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel, Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Lucia.
District Court Judge Wilma Lewis administered the citizens’ oath and each new citizen received a certificate and congratulations from the justice, Jewell, Kia’aina, Gov. Kenneth Mapp, Plaskett and Senate President Neville James. Among other things, they agreed to “bear arms when required by law.”
During her remarks, Jewell spoke to the new citizens and said she became a U.S. citizen at the age of 19, after memorizing the same material the St. Croix residents learned. She commended the 44 new voters and said along with rights and responsibilities they can achieve anything they want.
“You’ve made our nation strong already or you would not be here,” Jewell said.
Other speakers included James, Dodson James, Sonia Jacobs Dow from the St. Croix Landmarks Society who welcomed Jewell to the “Virgin Islands mainland” and asked the secretary to convince President Obama to visit the territory in the next year.
Ullmont James Jr. talked about the history of the territory up to 1917 and Joel Tutein, superintendent of the National Park Service, said a few words and introduced Jewell. The Park Service will also celebrate a 100-year anniversary next year.
Entertainment included cariso singer Cedelle and the Ay Ay Rhythm Ensemble who recounted the history of D. Hamilton Jackson, General Buddhoe and others through song and poetry.
Additional music was provided by the Lew Muckle Elementary School Steel Orchestra and Wilfred Allick, Jr. opened the ceremony with the call of the conch shell. The St. Croix Central High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp presented and retired colors.