United States Naturalization Ceremony Keynote Speech
On December 15, 2017 I addressed 174 new United States Citizens and their families. The Court Room was full and many family members were seated in an overflow room I gave this speech right after the roll call and I heard people's place of origin from all over the world. As I looked at their faces, I couldn't help wonder about their own stories, their own struggle to get to this final stage for their citizenship path.
After the roll call, Bonnie E Wiest administered the Oath of Citizenship and Judge Julie Robinson made a few remarks. Anita Tebbe an attorney with the Johnson County Bar Association introduced me to the audience.
Here is the text of my speech. I have to say there were many tears from not just from attendees and myself but also from the judge. It was a very moving day.
Good morning everyone! Thank you Judge Robinson.
And to my fellow Americans, our newest citizens -- I’m so excited. I’m proud and honored to be among the first to greet you as “my fellow Americans.”
As Americans, we all have our own story on how we got here. For me, my father and mother were married in 1950 in Hyderabad India. My older brother was born a year later and my father made an extraordinary trip to America as foreign student in 1952. In those days, travel was infrequent and expensive so he wasn’t able to go back to India until he completed his education 4 and half years later. He brought my mother and my brother who was now 6 years old to America in 1957. And I came after that.
It wasn’t easy, the first years for this new immigrant family. My mother would tell me that we lived in a two-room apartment in Philadelphia for the first 4 years of our new American family, but my father worked hard while my mom raised her two children. We later moved across the river to a place called Willingboro, NJ and my younger brother was born. This was our family. We didn’t have any other family except for our adopted family friends that I would call Uncle Walter, Aunt Pearl, Grandma Kris and Grandpa Paul. It wasn’t the same. So my dad asked his mother-my grandma to come and visit America. This woman who didn’t have more than a 6th grade education made the journey across two oceans and three continents to see what this place was like, this place called America. She loved it so much that when she went back to India, she convinced her other son to make the journey to America and start a new life. This was just the beginning of the migration of three branches of my family tree in America. My father and mother sponsored their brothers and sister to make a better life. Later when I married my husband who was also from India, we started sponsoring his family members as well. I don’t know exactly how many people are now in America (either by immigration, marriages, birth) because of my father, but it must be over 200 comprising of now doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, engineers, pharmacists, educators, health care executives, small business owners, pilots, journalists and home makers.
I now make my home in Kansas City with my four sons and my three grandchildren. So yes, my parents are now great grandparents!
It took one person back in 1952 to take a risk, to be a pioneer for a better life and I’m sure that even though my story is unique to me, it is not too far different from your own story. There was someone who sponsored you as an immigrant. I would ask you to call that person today and tell them THANK YOU! You owe them a debt of gratitude and all that person wants in return is a thank you.
So now that you are a United States citizen, you may feel that you have completed this long journey and can go home and celebrate. Wear you citizenship with pride and share your story too. So others can be inspired by your own story.
I posted on my FB page that I was going to be speaking to you all today and I asked my friends what I should tell you. It was a very popular post; I had 74 likes and 41 comments. Here is what they said in a nutshell:
1. Thank you for choosing to be a US citizen. You honor us by your choice
2. You are wanted and are needed here. Our country is better for your presence and contributions.
3. You are our hope.
4. You will add to our community
5. We are you and you are us
6. Your rights are protected by the law, use and obey the law to make a better life for yourselves and for all Americans. Also use the land of opportunities to make America a better place for the next generations to come.
7. You know more about America than most Americans at the moment you take the oath, so we need you in policy and leadership positions!
8. Become a visible and vocal part of the community. Let people get to know you, as you get to know them. To know and be known is priceless.
9. Today is the easiest time to register to vote. Voting is the most important thing you can do as a citizen. Volunteer to make phone calls or help on campaigns of candidates whose policies you agree with. Then when you are ready, consider running for local office like school board, City Council, or County Commission. It is important to be an informed voter and hold our elected officials accountable.
A friend of mine was a refugee when he and his family were expelled from Uganda by Edi Ameen in the 1970s told me that he is forever grateful to the United States for accepting his family when they had nothing and were able to build their lives here. Whenever he hears the US National Anthem he immediately thinks back to the day he arrived to the United States with just a suitcase.
You may have heard America is the great melting pot. I actually don’t like this metaphor. I like the picture of a toss salad, each citizen retains some of the flavor and culture they bring to America from their origin country. A peppers, tomato, cucumber or arugula retains their special flavor. And as a result our salad is delicious and one of kind.
Let me also say that when you see a wrong. Go and fix the wrong. Don’t think that someone else will do it and remain quiet. We need your voice. We need your presence. I found myself in the same position a few years ago. It was a time when our country was going through a difficult tragedy- 9/11. I found myself speaking more about inclusiveness and even starting writing articles about it. It was life-changing moment. I found I needed more people to have a better understanding about my faith so that my children and my grand children will have a better future. You may find you need to speak out as well.
It is an interesting time to live and work in America –keep in touch with your home language and culture. Teach your heritage to your children and grandchildren as well and become part of the American society.
As a new American you have new responsibilities- I hope you will think carefully about those responsibilities – that you will become involved in the life of the community around you – beyond your own family and close friends. Your newly-acquired citizenship will be more meaningful for you and others will see that you are part of the community. This makes life in general so much easier for yourself and for your family.
And as President Obama said to a group like yourselves two years ago on this day, “You will not and should not forget your history and your past. That adds to the richness of American life. But you are now American. You’ve got obligations as citizens. And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them. You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is. It’s not something to take for granted. It’s something to cherish and to fight for”.
I started this speech by saying that I am honored to be here, and it is because I am honored to be in your company. What you have already accomplished by getting to this place is remarkable. The distances you have traveled, the obstacles you have overcome, and the efforts you have made to put down roots here should and I hope will always be sources of pride, determination and of satisfaction to you and your families.
Thank you. May God bless you and May God bless the United States of America. Congratulations!!