As dawn broke on September 22, 2016, 4,140 people—along with their families and friends—gathered in the Los Angeles Convention Center (CC) to become United States citizens. WLALA Board Member Hon. Sandra R. Klein presided over the early morning Naturalization Ceremony, during which she administered the oath of allegiance and swore in the new citizens. Not only was the Ceremony memorable for the new citizens, their families and friends, but it was also part of a national Constitution and Citizenship Day celebration. 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.” United States Statutes at Large, 76 Cong. Ch. 183, 54 Stat. 178 (1940). It is now called Constitution and Citizenship Day and is observed in September each year to commemorate the formation and signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. 36 U.S.C. § 106 (2004). In fact, the Constitution and citizenship are so important to our nation, we now celebrate for an entire week. The Ceremony took place during that very special week.
During her remarks, Judge Klein noted that when our founding fathers signed the Constitution, they changed the course of history. Although America now spans an entire continent and life today is much different from what our founders could have ever imagined, the beauty of the Constitution is that it continues to adapt and endure. And, it is because of the Constitution that everyone sworn in on September 22, 2016 will experience the many freedoms enjoyed by all American citizens.
As Judge Klein’s externs, we were privileged to witness the Ceremony.
Christina Gasparian: I was awestruck from the moment that I stepped into the CC, which was filled with a cacophony of sounds and thousands of people from diverse backgrounds, with different stories, achievements, and struggles. I marveled at all the proud individuals who, despite their differences, had a unified goal—becoming a United States citizen. I had goosebumps throughout the entire Ceremony as I realized how blessed I am to live in such a diverse country, where being an American citizen is not just crafted on paper but instilled within each and every individual.
Attending the Ceremony was extremely gratifying because I had the opportunity to witness 4,140 individuals fulfill their dream. It also gave me new insights into my family’s journey to American citizenship: my parents immigrated from Armenia to the United States in the 1980s. I developed a greater understanding and appreciation for the challenges my parents faced to become U.S. citizens so that they could create a stable life for my brother and me. I have newfound respect for naturalized citizens who strive for something that I have always taken for granted. As Judge Klein stated during her remarks: “those of us who were born in this country very often take the privilege of citizenship for granted.” This moving experience will stay with me forever and will always remind me of how privileged I am to be an American citizen.
Kristin Haule: Observing the Ceremony was a great reminder that, as Judge Klein noted in her speech, the United States is a nation of immigrants. It was truly heartwarming to watch the 4,140 applicants from 126 different countries take the oath of allegiance to become U.S. citizens. Because my family went through the naturalization process a few generations ago, I sometimes take for granted the many amazing privileges of citizenship. But, witnessing this ceremony was a wonderful reminder of just how great this country is and how hard people work to become citizens. This is especially true for the 11 military service members who were sworn in. They are extraordinary men and women who risked their lives to defend this country before they were even granted citizenship.
Judge Klein highlighted the many privileges of being an American citizen. She noted that American citizens enjoy freedom of religion. She highlighted that, in this country, a person cannot be persecuted or imprisoned simply for practicing his or her faith or religion. Another privilege Judge Klein mentioned is freedom of speech and the right to have an opinion, to voice that opinion and to be heard, even if others disagree. Judge Klein remarked that one of our greatest privileges is the right to vote, to elect leaders and to participate actively in our democracy. As Americans, we have the great privilege to live in a free, democratic society. Judge Klein highlighted that voting is the right that makes us free.
Judge Klein concluded her remarks by quoting our sixth president, 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.” She urged the new citizens to make good use of the freedoms they will enjoy as United States citizens and to help look out for our country.
After the District Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services addressed the new citizens, there was not a dry eye in the house as the Bel Canto Choir from Huntington Middle School sang the National Anthem. The sense of patriotism and camaraderie in the air was palpable. We may have entered that room as citizens of more than 100 different countries, but by the end of the Ceremony, we were all citizens of the same country. Our diversity is what makes us such a great nation, and our common citizenship unites us.