The New-York Historical Society was honored to welcome 189 new U.S. citizens at a special naturalization ceremony on June 14. The date was especially poignant because it was Flag Day—the commemoration of when the U.S. flag was adopted in 1777, at the Second Continental Congress. The new citizens came from 37 countries, including China, Mexico, Pakistan, and Yemen, and proudly waved their American flags after swearing the Oath of Allegiance.
As part of the ceremony, New-York Historical Trustee Eric J. Wallach shared his thoughts about the importance of becoming a citizen and his own mother’s journey to the United States. You can read his full speech below.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a unique privilege for me to address you on this wonderful occasion. When this republic was established, our Founding Fathers made a profound decision and determined that we would not have a titled aristocracy. Instead, the highest honor available to our countrymen would be the status of “citizen”. Today, I am proud to be among the very first to congratulate you on achieving that status and becoming the United States’ newest citizens!
It is particularly appropriate that this citizenship ceremony should be celebrated here. The New-York Historical Society was founded very early in the life of this nation and has borne witness to the successive waves of immigration that have contributed so much to the glory and flourishing both of this city and also of this country. Due to the generosity of many past and present participants in this remarkable historical process, the Historical Society possesses a unique collection of documents and objects reflecting the lives and experiences of a multitude of new arrivals to our shores and, like you, new citizens.
We here are all Americans but we are also all immigrants or at least descended from immigrants. We or our forbearers have come to this great nation seeking liberty and opportunity as well in many cases an escape from tyranny and deprivation. My own family is not different in this respect from any other.
My mother came to the United States from France as a young woman in 1940 as a refugee from the ravages of Nazi occupation during World War II. She was deeply grateful to the country that provided her shelter from the terrible genocide in Europe that ultimately took the lives of her parents and many of her family members and friends. Like other immigrants before her, my mother preserved many of the traditions and cultural attitudes of her country of origin, but she thought of herself as an American, was fiercely patriotic and considered her U.S. citizenship as the greatest gift in her possession.
Our business and economic systems, our cultural diversity and leadership, and perhaps most of all, our constitutional system of government remain the envy of the modern world. In my judgement, America’s greatness is a fact and the American Dream is alive and well. By American Dream, I mean the process by which any American by dint of hard work, diligence and dedication can achieve unlimited success and share in all the best things that our society has to offer. None of this, however, can be taken for granted. We all know from history that other preeminent societies like those of ancient Greece and Rome ultimately collapsed because they permitted themselves to fall victim to despotism, corruption and the loss of fundamental values. Each of us as an American citizen has a shared responsibility to preserve and protect those American institutions that make us special, to guard our civil right and liberties and, by reason of the special contributions that we individually make, to foster the continued growth of this extraordinary country.
In this connection, I would note that you have become citizens at a crucial juncture in America’s history. At no point in recent times have the contrasting positions presented in a Presidential and Congressional election been so dramatic or so important. I trust that you will exercise this, the single most important privilege of citizenship, to both express and also vote your preferences and in so doing assure that your voice is heard and that your participation in the process is direct and meaningful.
Andre Malraux, the great French writer, Resistance leader and statesman said, “The mind supplies the idea of a nation but what gives this idea its sentimental force is a community of dreams.” For almost 250 years, shared dreams and aspirations have animated the development of this remarkable nation. I know that your own dreams and aspirations will continue this experience. I congratulate you on your new U.S. citizenship and call on you to join with your new countrymen to make sure that the society we bequeath to the next generation is as open, democratic and vibrant as is the one that welcomes you today. Thank you and good luck to all of you.