Natural-born citizens can learn a lot from a naturalization ceremony. We can remember there are 435 members of the House of Representatives, a fact those vying for citizenship must memorize. We can brush up on the words to the national anthem. We can see just how excitedly someone can wave a tiny American flag. But most importantly, we learn how hard some people work for a privilege we may take for granted.
On November 10, 2011 the New-York Historical Society and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services hosted a naturalization ceremony for one hundred new citizens in the Robert H. Smith Auditorium. New citizens and supporting families filed in early, eager to take their oaths. They ranged in age from eighteen to seventy-nine, from thirty-four countries including Korea and Peru, and there were even five active service members with the bravery to fight for a country in which they didn’t yet have the right to vote. They also all came here for different reasons, whether it was to raise a family, follow a career or just find new opportunities not available in their birth countries.
One USCIS official reminded them that becoming American citizens does not mean giving up their birth countries. America is a country built on diversity, immigration and respect for those different cultures. And as President Obama said in his recorded message to the new citizens, “Together, we are a nation not united by any one culture, or ethnicity, or ideology, but by the principles of opportunity, equality and liberty that are enshrined in our founding documents.”
One new citizen coming from Honduras took the stage to get his certificate. His smile was so wide you could see his molars from the back seat, and as soon as he shook the last official’s hand he threw his arms in the air and let out a loud and long “Wooooooo!” Natural-born citizens will never feel a specific “moment” of citizenship, but by seeing the work required of new citizens and the joy of that work paying off, we remember why American citizenship is something special.