Brand new Americans are living the dream
On Wednesday morning, 119 people stood in the city’s Mission Memorial Auditorium, hand over heart, and pledged their allegiance to the flag.
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On Wednesday morning, 119 people stood in the city’s Mission Memorial Auditorium, hand over heart, and pledged their allegiance to the flag — something most of us did every morning in elementary school, mumbling and approximating what we had learned by rote. But these 119 people were saying those words for the first time as U.S. citizens. They were actually pledging their allegiance to this country.
The looks on their faces. Each one different but each so hopeful and full of light. Such a moment spills over with emotion.
“Everybody should see this ceremony once in their lives,” said Lian
Abernathy, chief deputy clerk of the U.S. District Court of Hawaii.
Every month, the Hawaii district of the federal court system holds a naturalization ceremony in Honolulu for about 100 people who have applied, met the requirements, studied civics lessons and passed an interview. In the context of the current national conversation about what it means to be American and what America stands for, Wednesday’s ceremony took on even greater meaning.
On this day, the new citizens came from 28 different countries. The youngest was 18. The oldest was 79. Five in the group are already serving in the U.S. military. It is a powerful thing to watch a young man standing in the dress uniform of our country’s armed forces taking the Oath of Allegiance — a person who is already serving this country promising to serve this country.
The ceremony is a reminder that America is still the exceptional place where everyone who is willing to work hard and to sacrifice gets a fair shot at making a good life, not free from struggle but free from fear. Maybe that isn’t always the reality, but in that room and in those eyes, that was the shining belief, a dream handed down through a history of American greatness.
They stand, the new Americans, wearing lei of red, white and blue yarn made by the Lions Club, and clutching small American flags, a gift from the Knights of Columbus. They put their hands over their hearts and say the words that those who were born here learned when we were 5 or 6. They say those words with such joy and reverence, like a song of praise.
At the end, the new citizens walk to the front of the auditorium and wait for their names to be called. They beam when Franklyn Harrison of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services pronounces their names correctly. Harrison has been doing this a long time and he knows it’s important to get every name right.
Then they cross the stage to accept a certificate with their name and picture on it from U.S. Magistrate Barry Kurren, who shakes every hand, and poses for exuberant pictures.
One older woman paused on stage to look down at her picture on the paper that said she was a now an American citizen. She shook the paper in her hands like she couldn’t believe it was real. “So happy,” she said to anyone around who might bear witness to the moment. “Today is so happy.”
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or email@example.com.