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A touching naturalization ceremony in Chicago

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Mayor Emanuel speaks at the naturalization ceremony/photo courtesy of Rudy Urian

Mayor Emanuel speaks at the naturalization ceremony/photo courtesy of Rudy Urian

The large winter garden room on the 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library is flooded with sunshine and packed with people from 26 different countries. The weather may be cold outside, but in here, the room is full of warmth and anticipation.

It is the naturalization ceremony for 73 new citizens, accompanied by their family members and friends.

The ceremony started solemnly, with Paul Phillips, Supervisory Immigration Services Officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services serving as master of ceremonies. Rey Colon, Alderman for the 35th Ward in the city and Brian Bannon, Chicago Public Library Commissioner, delivered welcome remarks. Students from the George Westinghouse College Prep Color Guard did a wonderful job in conducting the Presentation of Colors and National Anthem.

Taking Oath of Allegiance/photo courtesy of City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Taking Oath of Allegiance/photo courtesy of City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Then we all joined the audience to take the Oath of Allegiance and the Pledge of Allegiance.

I was deeply touched. Fifteen years ago, I was among those sitting in the audience and being sworn in as a U.S. citizen. When it was my turn to deliver the “congratulatory remarks,” I shared my feelings and thoughts.

I congratulated them from the bottom of my heart, knowing well the long process each of them had to go through in order to arrive at this stage.

I shared with them the journey I had taken, coming to the U.S. as an international student in the mid ’80s and speaking “Chinglish” that was difficult for everyone to understand. But the U.S. is a country largely built by immigrants and it embraces diversity. I was very lucky to receive a lot of support and help from many American friends, mentors, and even strangers.

Indeed, all of us are truly lucky to be in this land of freedom and opportunities. Here, in this open and welcoming society, we can overcome many hurdles and flourish. We should all take advantage of the opportunities to set up our goals and work hard to achieve them. We should all join our fellow Americans and make our contribution to this country. Of course, we should all join force in helping other immigrants in their effort of obtaining their rights and becoming American citizens as well.

New citizens!

New citizens!

Mayor Emanuel delivered a very personal and moving speech. He talked about how his grandfather came to this country at a young age and welcomed everyone.

“Whether you are from China or Chili, Poland or Pakistan, … you can call Chicago home,” said Mayor Emanuel. He said Chicago is the most American of American cities and generations of immigrants have come here to give themselves and their children a chance that they could not have had anywhere else.

I walked away feeling elated and inspired. Judging from the buzz among the crowd, I knew I was not the only one feeling this way.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary movie by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit for more information.

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One Book One Chicago spring program

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Lisa and I share a moment with Yiyun Li at the reception for her at HWLC

Chicago Public Library‘s One Book, One Chicago (OBOC) program this spring has selected Chinese author Yiyun Li’s Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, a collection of short stories. Li came to Chicago to conduct a “conversation” with Achy Obejas, a Chicago author, to discuss about her book and meet with readers in the city at the Harold Washington Library Center on Thursday, April 19.

Since its inception in 2001, OBOC has featured 21 authors, including Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), and Saul Below (The Adventures of Augie March).

Li is the first Chinese author being featured in the OBOC program.

“It’s a great honor,” Li said in our conversation.

I asked her about her experience of writing in English, Li said writing was all about telling stories, no matter in what language. “I started writing in English. In a way, English is my first language in writing,” she said.

Born in 1972 in Beijing, Li moved to the U.S. 1996. She graduated from the famed Iowa Writers’ workshop with M.F.A. in 2005 and has published many short stories in major magazines in the West. She has received numerous awards, including the Guardian First Book Award, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. In 2010, Li was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40.

A bus shelter ad for One Book One Chicago on Michigan Ave.

“Li’s book is one of the more contemporary stories set in modern China,” Susan Huizinga, a friend in my book reading group commented. “What struck me most in her stories is the sadness as a common thread. Listening to her talking tonight helped me understand better,” she continued.

Annie Tully, director of Chicago Public Library’s OBOC program said the selection of Li’s book was appealing to Chicago readers. “Everyone wants to know more about China right now…. More people are drawn to it because it’s a Chinese author and the stories are set in China.”

OBOC runs twice a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. This spring’s program will continue to the end of April. In addition to Li’s book, the program has also included film screening, performances, lectures, and discussions throughout the city. It’s one of Chicago’s major cultural events. There is still a few days and programs left before the end of the month. Read the book and check out the programs!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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