Oakland ceremony naturalizes over 1,200 permanent legal residents
A total of 1,261 new American citizens gathered in Oakland’s Paramount Theater on Sept. 26 for the swearing-in ceremony that makes their citizenship official. These new citizens came from 98 different countries.
For each new citizen this is the culmination of a long and often arduous journey. The master of ceremonies from the Immigration Service gave a special shout out to El Salvador, apparently because of the unusually large contingent from this country.
He made a point of honoring each home country, first naming a few that were home to the largest number in the crowd (and eliciting raucous cheers and waving of small American flags that were handed out at the door).
“Anyone here from Mexico?” he asked and was greeted with prolonged cheers. He gave a brief speech in Spanish to welcome the new citizens from Latin America.
The MC then gave a special welcome in Cantonese to the new citizens from China, another in Hindi to those from India and another in Tagalog to those from the Philippines. He gave the audience plenty of opportunities to cheer for themselves, for their home countries, and for America.
Finally, he read the names of all 98 countries of origin, with those standing as their home country was named, until the auditorium was a delirious throng of cheering citizens.
A choir sang patriotic songs, dignitaries gave speeches and officials gave instructions for the new citizens. The most frequent and urgent instruction was to register to vote, immediately, and then to vote. “You may have heard that there’s an election coming up,” the speakers told them.
A throng of voter registration volunteers with clipboards waited outside the Paramount along with a cardboard likenesses of Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
Like all the other instructions about where to store their new certificates of citizenship and when to contact Social Security, the pleas to vote left the audience silent. But one instruction set the whole room to cheering.
“It may make you nervous,” the MC said, “to give up your green card, and then leave your certificate [of citizenship] at home. You think, what if I get stopped by the police?
“No problem. Just say, ‘Excuse me, officer, I’m a U.S. citizen.’ As a U.S. citizen you don’t need to show any papers.” The cheering was immediate and prolonged.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla spoke about his parents’ experience of becoming naturalized citizens when he was in grade school. “What courage it took,” he told the audience, “for them to make that decision.”
His father was a short-order cook and his mother cleaned houses. His parents exhorted Alex to study. Indeed he excelled at school and eventually went to MIT and became a mechanical engineer.
But when they were the students and the shoe was on the other foot his parents were all nerves. “I remember sitting on the couch with my dad,” he said, “going through flash cards. Why are there 50 stars? Who was the first president of the United States?”
And when they were discouraged or nervous he told them what they always told him: “You can do it, you’re going be fine.” And they were.
“I am truly an example of the American Dream,” he said.
This article continues with the story “Law firms collaborate to offer free services for new immigrants”