How’s this for a new year’s resolution?: “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”
Those are a few of the words recited at every US naturalization ceremony by people from foreign lands who have chosen to become American citizens. I got to hear them spoken aloud at the Federal Courthouse in Concord recently and, for the first time, realized the gravity and scope of just what was being given up to become something new.
I had never attended one of these “swearing in” events, but I felt like I had. After all, in the inventory of sentimental, Capra-esque Americana, this scenario is justly famous. It was made even more poignant by the fact that this one took place on the Monday after President Obama announced his executive order to cut back on deportations for some immigrants who jumped the line on this process.
It was bitter cold outside the courthouse at 7 a.m. when the lines began to form. Although it’s a special occasion there (the only time that cameras and smartphones are allowed to be used during a proceeding), the security is still tight and mothers fretted over drowsy babes in arms and bed-headed pre-schoolers until everyone was at least safe and warm inside the massive front doors.
My wife, daughter and I were there to share the experience with our friends, the Hindal family — Iraqi refugees who have lived here for about four years. We’ve come to know their story pretty well, and it’s amazing what they’ve survived and gone through over the past decade. When we finally found seats in the back of the crowded courtroom and looked over the smiling faces on that mosaic of races and cultures, my daughter whispered to me, “Just think of all the stories in this room.”
All stood as the judge entered. He explained the purpose of the ceremony was to “bestow one of our nation’s highest honors: American citizenship,” noting that there were 80 people officially present that morning representing 34 countries. Then he added, sternly, “Against those who would turn diversity to divisiveness we stand shoulder to shoulder.”
A line of students from Beaver Meadow School filed to the front to sing a medley of patriotic songs, starting and ending with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”
Before releasing the new citizens to join their friends in the back of the room and then pose for photos with Governor Maggie Hassan, the judge said, “One thought I’d like you to take with you. Citizenship requires more than an oath. Participate in active citizenship. Study our documents, our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Teach your children and grandchildren. Vote. Serve on juries, boards and in the military.”
The cynic in me was strangely quiet. As the ceremony ended, I saw lots of tears in eyes. Mine were dry, but I felt a weird glow. By witnessing this bold step so eagerly taken by a room full of people, I felt the urge to become a new American citizen myself.