ATLANTA — Dominique Bakilane is a soccer fan, and he admits his baseball knowledge is largely limited to the exploits of Jackie Robinson.
But he was among the first to arrive at 5:30 a.m. to wait to get into Turner Field, both to beat the Atlanta traffic, and to fulfill a part of his American dream.
Wednesday, the Senegal native and Powder Springs, Ga., resident stood along with 1,094 candidates from 81 different countries to take the oath to become United States citizens — and they did it against the background of the nation’s pastime from the stands of the home of the Braves.
"It’s a dream come true," said Bakilane, who had an American flag sitting in the breast pocket of his dark-blue suit. "I’ve been waiting. When you come here, it’s not easy. … I’m really proud."
Digital versions of the stars and stripes appeared on screens throughout the stadium, while a makeshift podium had been placed atop the home dugout and the Color Guard stood at attendance at field level. Meanwhile, the Braves drumline, the Heavy Hitters, played, candidates shook foam red tomahawks and a few, including a man from Bosnia and Herzegovina, wore Atlanta hats.
Braves president John Schuerholz gave the opening remarks during Wednesday’s ceremony.
"What’s more American than baseball?" asked Kathy Redman, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Southeast Regional Director, who administered the oath.
Braves president John Schuerholz offered the opening remarks, discussing his own family’s immigration and what brought each and every candidate to the cusp of becoming Americans.
"I commend you and your ancestors — your parents and your grandparents — for the work they did, the dedication they made, the sacrifices they and you have made to put yourselves here in this place today," he said.
As the countries of origin were announced — from Argentina to Yugoslavia — the candidates rose, awaiting the final step in the process. At the direction of Redman they raised their right hands, repeating the following:
Bakilane broke into a wide smile as they finished, clapping. He pulled an American flag from his breast pocket and waved it above his head.
He had arrived in America in 2005, initially settling in New Jersey before moving to Atlanta in 2012. It has all been with a single purpose:
"I just came to fulfill my American dream, to buy a house and have everything," he said.