Eleven hundred newly naturalized citizens and their loved ones streamed out of the Paramount Theater in Oakland last Thursday, and we were there to greet them:
“We’re so glad you’re here!”
Also, “Would you like to register to vote?”
After all, that’s why I and dozens of compatriots were there: to empower our newest fellow Americans to speak out at the ballot box. A woman who heads up an activist group I phone bank with had told us that if we ever had a chance to participate in these registration drives, it was a really inspiring thing to do—especially in these dark days when immigrants face such hostility from the President himself. So I was on the lookout for the next opportunity, which happened to coincide with a long break in my work schedule on the one day of the week I’m in that neck of the woods.
I personally registered three of the nearly 300 who signed up that day: a man born in Mexico, another originally from South Korea, and a young woman whose parents brought her from Guatemala when she was two. By sheer coincidence, this last person happened to be the partner of my friends’ son—their whole family, as well as hers, were there to celebrate this last leg of her 28-year journey; it was wonderful to share in their joy.
I spoke with another woman who had been in this country for 30 years, since the age of 5, when her parents brought her from Mexico. One of the other volunteers had already registered her, but she was happy to chat while waiting in line to complete her passport application. She was excited to have finally become a citizen of the only country she had ever known. She was also excited to have a few hours away from work without any of her three young American-born kids clinging to her. We swapped stories about what a great treat it was to go to exotic places such as CVS and the grocery store unencumbered by little ones.
A friend of mine now in her 60s tells me she still vividly remembers the day decades before when she and her sister and their parents were sworn in as naturalized citizens at the Paramount Theater. They had come from Israel when my friend was eight. She can recall the excitement of the day, the outfit she wore (down to her shoes!). This friend, once s stranger in a strange land, has contributed so much to her family, her community, our country, and to me. She’s an inspiration.
I salute those who have just gone through their own journeys to this country, their own ceremonies at the Paramount, and know that they, too, will be an inspiration.
Congratulations! Welcome! And thanks. You are part of what makes America great.