This week Rosa, the woman I tutor, took her citizenship oath. One hundred sixty-seven candidates participated in the ceremony held at the Rose Wagner Theater in Salt Lake City. Friends and family packed the auditorium. Candidates, dressed in their finest clothes for the occasion, hailed from every part of the globe.
George and I found seats on the front row of the balcony where we could see Rosa sitting on the main floor with the other candidates. I feared the hour-long ceremony would bog down in dull speeches. Not so. Cub Scouts presented the colors and an elementary school choir sang a few patriotic songs—then the kids sat on the stage facing the candidates for the rest of the program. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution spoke—not about the Revolutionary War—which I half expected—but about achieving dreams. She told of immigrant families a century ago being separated at Ellis Island—for days and even weeks during processing. The DAR provided sewing machines so the women could stitch clothing for their families while waiting to enter the country. The federal judge presiding at the ceremony described his own parents’ immigration to American from Romania.
After the oath and picture taking, the judge gave the microphone to new Americans who wanted to express their feelings. A man from Tonga said he’d been in our country for 30 years, served in the military, and was proud to now be a citizen. A woman from El Salvador introduced herself as the proud mother of an American Marine who would be coming home tomorrow. A man from Mexico told of working with a Bosnian man who spoke no English, but did understand Spanish. In Spanish he communicated with his co-worker and helped him do his the job because “that’s the American way.”
Since this is Utah, some of the new citizens were here because of Mormon influence. A Tongan speaker gave thanks to Heavenly Father for bringing him to this country. A young woman from China was grateful her husband introduced her to the gospel and brought her to this country. A Canadian told of his great-grandfather, an American citizen, moving to Canada over a hundred years ago (probably in order to practice polygamy). Now the great-grandson has returned to the home of his ancestors.
Since the requirement for citizenship is seven years consecutive residence, these new citizens have been in the country long enough to know America is not perfect and Americans do not always live up to our highest ideals. Still, they see it as a land of opportunity where they can work and provide a better life for their children. I wish I could have heard all 167 stories from our newest citizens—and I’m really glad a few dozen American school kids had a ringside to see these new “Real Americans.”