Watch the full video and read my transcript after the jump…
I went down to the Paramount Theater in Oakland to be sworn in as an American citizen… along with 977 other immigrants. Wow, what a scene and what a feeling. I am thrilled beyond belief! It’s like the eight year old kid in me has finally found a home here.
Special shout out to Kyle and Karla who flew out from DC to come to the ceremony!
My parents told me that when they were sworn in, people from the audience were allowed to volunteer to give a speech. My dad was one of two people to give a speech, and my parents texted me furiously this morning to encourage me to give a speech as well. So while I was on the BART on my way to the ceremony, I was thinking about what I would say in a speech to a room full of soon-to-be citizens. I didn’t get a chance to volunteer to give a speech because that wasn’t part of our ceremony (but we did have an internationally acclaimed opera singer sing the Star Spangled Banner and we also had a video of President Barack Obama welcome us).
But I did want to say that I feel truly honored and blessed to be able to become an American after 19 years of trials and tribulations. As an immigrant, I feel like I have been living in the shadows for years and years of my life. I know I’m not alone in that feeling because Immigrant culture is one in which people don’t want to get noticed for fear that something bad will happen to them and their chances for citizenship. I can’t even tell you how many times my parents told me to not do anything that would draw attention to myself or to my family.
However, I want to make sure that issues like these are made to not feel taboo. Everyday in OUR great country, people from all walks of life are pushed to the margins of society and are forced to live in the shadows. And everyday we turn our heads or close our eyes to the injustice of things like poverty, homelessness, a broken education system, and homophobia. I feel extremely excited to an American, but conflicted because my state, California, won’t legally recognize me if I married a man I loved.
My point is that we, all of us, as Americans have a great responsibility to shed light on issues that are in the shadows and margins of society.
The master of ceremonies this morning told us that all 978 of us who became citizens this morning represented 99 different countries, but after the ceremony we would all represent just one country. We represent one country, so let’s fight for people and issues that strengthen our country and bring us together. Let’s shed light and lend a helping hand to the people in our country who are living in the shadows of our society… undocumented immigrants, people in poverty, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
Because if one of us is struggling, then all of us are struggling. If one of us is suffering, then all of us are suffering. If a small minority group’s civil rights are compromised, then we all have had our civil rights compromised.
So I encourage you, no I implore you, to get out there and fight for issues that make America stronger. Help us fight for Marriage Equality in California and across the country. Help us close the achievement gap so that students who come from low income communities have the opportunity to get a good college education.
But really, I don’t care what you do, as long as you do something in service of your fellow citizens and residents.
Our keynote speaker ended his speech by telling us that all we are required to do now as new Americans is to “Love America. Hold her dear to your heart.”
I’ll take it one step further by saying “Love each other and love your fellow Americans.”
Thanks to everyone for your support. My dear friends,some of whom have seen the progress or the lack of progress throughout the years, and especially to my family – mom, dad, Francis and Rachel – I wouldn’t be here without you guys. I love you!