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October 2017 - Constitution and Citizenship Day
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Witnessing a Naturalization Ceremony During Constitution and Citizenship Week:

What it Meant to Me

by Yervant Hagopian

Extern to WLALA Board Member Hon. Sandra R. Klein

 

On Wednesday morning, September 20, I was proud to witness a naturalization ceremony (Ceremony) during which 4,560 individuals were sworn in as United States citizens. The Ceremony was held in the enormous Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC), with approximately 15,000 people in attendance.  For many reasons, this was a special event that will remain engrained in my memory forever.

First, the Ceremony was held during Constitution and Citizenship week, which is celebrated across the country each year.  More than 75 years ago, Congress created “I Am An American Day” to recognize “all who, by coming of age or naturalization, have attained the status of citizenship,” and to highlight “the privileges and responsibilities of being an American citizen.”[1]  Now called Constitution and Citizenship Day, it is observed each September to commemorate the formation and signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.[2]  In fact, the Constitution and citizenship are so important we now celebrate for an entire week.  This year’s Ceremony had extra significance because it marked the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

 

Second, after attending the Ceremony, I now appraise the value of my citizenship differently.  Many people who were born in the United States might take for granted their citizenship.  We did not have to apply for it, we did not have to study for it, and we did not have to take a test to achieve it.  Seeing the new citizens in tears after finally achieving their dreams of citizenship gave me a whole new appreciation of what it means to be an American.  

Third, witnessing families gather to celebrate this joyous occasion reminded me of stories about my own family’s immigration from Soviet Armenia to the United States.  In 1974, my grandparents, my father, and my aunt immigrated to the U.S.—a country they had never been to, where they had no friends or relatives, and whose language they did not speak.  At the time, my father was preparing to begin his senior year of college, but much of his coursework was not transferable to American universities, so he had to start over as a freshman.  Eventually, my grandfather made a living as a shoe cobbler and my father became a chiropractor. In retirement, my grandfather felt most proud that his children and grandchildren were able to obtain an education, which was a goal he had set for himself but was never able to achieve due to the circumstances in his country. Instead, my grandfather got to live that dream through his children and he was forever grateful to America for affording his family that opportunity.    

When asked, my grandfather fondly recalled the day he and his family gathered at the LACC to officially become naturalized citizens.  He was overjoyed not only because he and his family endured so much to come to this country but also because they could finally enjoy the opportunities that came in return.  While attending the Ceremony, I imagined what my grandfather must have felt on that special day.

Finally, as Judge Klein’s extern, it was an honor to witness her presiding over the Ceremony.  Judge Klein remarked that, “When our founding fathers signed the United States Constitution, they changed the course of history,” and “it is because of the Constitution that [the 4,560 people sworn in at the LACC] are now citizens of this great country and will experience the many freedoms enjoyed by all American citizens.”  To emphasize the significance of the United States being a nation of diverse cultures and beliefs, Judge Klein quoted John F. Kennedy, who said: “Immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.”  Judge Klein reminded the new citizens of the wonderful freedoms they enjoy as Americans, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and one of the greatest rights of any free people: the right to vote. Judge Klein closed her remarks with a poignant quote from John Quincy Adams: “You will never know how much it cost my generation to preserve your freedom.  I hope you will make good use of it.”  Judge Klein urged the newly naturalized Americans to make good use of the freedoms they now enjoy as United States citizens.  

There was not a dry eye in the LACC as the award-winning Huntington Middle School choir sang a magnificent rendition of the national anthem, which was a fitting end to a moving Ceremony.  Witnessing a naturalization ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I would urge everyone who has a chance to do so.  For the dates and locations of upcoming ceremonies, as well as information about the naturalization process please click on this link to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California's website:  https://www.cacd.uscourts.gov/clerk-services/naturalization-ceremony-information.  Please note that space is limited.  
   


[1] United States Statutes at Large, 76 Cong. Ch. 183, 54 Stat. 178 (1940).

 

[2] 36 U.S.C. § 106 (2004).

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