Terry McLaughlin: New citizens serve as reminder of America’s worth
On July 26, I had the privilege of attending a Naturalization Ceremony at the Sacramento Convention Center.
Precisely at 10 a.m. that morning, 1,120 legal immigrants from over 85 countries became citizens of the United States of America.
The smiles that lit their faces made it very clear to everyone observing that this was a momentous time of celebration and joy.
Every one of these brand new U.S. citizens spent considerable expense and many years following the lawful procedural steps necessary to become a U.S. citizen and enjoy all of the benefits and privileges that status entails. They studied the history, laws, and Constitution of the United States, and were required to successfully pass a test on these subjects.
All of their efforts culminated in a moving and visually beautiful ceremony, accented by colorful ethnic attire and fragrant bouquets of flowers from well-wishers, and attended by thousands of welcoming supporters on a warm Thursday morning in July — and now these new citizens are permanently woven into the tapestry of the wonderful experiment that we call America.
Together, all 1,120 immigrants — from Algeria, Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Egypt, Germany, India, Ireland, Iraq, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Syria, Thailand, and dozens of other countries across the globe — stated in one strong voice the following Oath of Allegiance to the United States:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign, prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
Read that again. What a powerful statement of faithfulness and allegiance to our country, and the willingness to accept the responsibilities that come along with the privileges. Could you recite this oath with honest and serious intent? I have read it and re-read it many times since hearing it spoken for the first time, and only hope that, as an American, I am worthy of the allegiance and fidelity of these new citizens. On June 7, 1935, my own father recited this oath, and for the remainder of his life he honored it. He lived his adult life as a proud and patriotic American, helping and supporting others in his community, and especially providing aide and assistance to other legal immigrants desiring to become citizens of the country to which he was so devoted.
I am an American by accident of birth. I could just have easily been born in my father’s native country, but I won the planetary lottery when I was born in the United States of America. These 1,120 new Americans made a choice — they chose America and they chose to become inextricably entwined with the American people for the rest of their lives. They worked and studied and spent their own scarce resources in the pursuit of this goal. I was so proud to welcome these new citizens, handing them American flags which they proudly waved, directing them to others who could assist them to change their Social Security status to reflect their new citizenship, or provide forms for them to register to vote for the first time. There were many smiles and much jubilation when a new citizen could mark the box stating “I am a U.S. Citizen”.
After taking the Oath of Allegiance, the newly-minted citizens were asked to join the thousands of supporters in the room in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. This was the first time they were able to recite this pledge as a citizen. The walls reverberated with the sound of thousands of voices stating in unison and joy “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Everyone in that room was an American citizen, citing together our fidelity to our country, and it didn’t matter where we were born or the color of our skin. As Americans we recite the same pledge of allegiance, we agree to abide by the same laws, we honor the same Constitution and Bill of Rights, and we promise to protect and defend our country’s sovereignty.
A morning spent with these shiny new Americans reminds us why it was worth it to them, and to hundreds of thousands of others, to spend the time, money and effort to become a full, legal participant in this great country.
Welcome them yourself next week on Aug. 22 at 10 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center!
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Nevada City, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com.
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