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.
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.
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 www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.