As part of my work with the League of Women Voters I had the privilege today of attending the swearing-in ceremony for new citizens at the Federal Court House in Central Islip. The League provides new citizens with forms to register to vote, to assume one of the most important duties inherent in their shining new badge of citizenship. This is my second time; last summer’s ceremony at Sagamore Hill was no less moving.
Over 120 people gathered, faces reflecting a rainbow of hues – brown, white, and all shades in between. To a person they were well-dressed, quiet, attentive, reflecting the solemnity of the moment, unarguably one of the most important days of their lives. I thought of what they must have endured, leaving their homes, families and heritage to work for a right that I have not had to do anything for, and have effortlessly enjoyed for my entire life, simply because of the geography of my birth. One by one they approached the table to submit proof of their efforts, to receive their naturalization papers, to finally officially become an American citizen.
After the new citizens were sworn in the Judge asked them to stand when he called the name of their country of birth: Hong Kong; El Salvador; Canada; Portugal; Bangladesh; Chile; Russia; Haiti; Ireland; Israel; Italy – the list was extensive. One by one the new citizens stood, and when they were finally all on their feet, they turned to place their hands over their hearts and make a Pledge of Allegiance to a new flag, a new heritage, a new country. I confess to tears. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
If there is ever a fear that devotion to American citizenship has become blasé or unappreciated, just show up Tuesday mornings at the Federal Courthouse. You will never be the same again.