Being a citizen of the United States has different meanings to each and every one of us. To some it means a new beginning and a better life; to others it's just a place called home.
In 1976, when she was 19, my mom came to America. She was looking for adventure and freedom. She met my dad, got married and moved to New Mexico with him. Then she got her green card.
Many years later I sat at the Convention Center like a proud parent in the audience at my mom’s naturalization ceremony. It had been over a year since she had started the process to become a citizen. I had never felt more proud to be siting there.
I thought back to the many days and nights I spent with my mom helping her study, seeing her make
flash cards and quizzing her. It was an interesting role reversal for me of helping her study for her test as she had helped me countless times with my homework and tests for school. Just as she once sat in the audience for many school achievement ceremonies, now I sat in the audience for one of the biggest things my mom ever did.
When we arrived at the convention center, we were surprised by the number of people there. The line to check in was so long that you could not see the other end, almost going into the hallway leading to the parking garage. As we stood there, I looked around at the assortment of people. I wanted to know everyone's stories. There were two young girls in front of us. I spied over their shoulders. I could see that the one of them had a Vietnamese passport. We later found out that only one of them was becoming a citizen; the other girl was her friend, there with her on this auspicious occasion. Behind us was an older man, he was alone; he was from Mexico. Behind him was a younger man with his kid and what I assume were his mother, father and friends; they were from Argentina. You could see how excited and nervous everyone was. They were all welldressed, after all this was a court proceeding.
Finally we made it to the front of the line and my mom checked in; she had to give up her green card, the one which had the face of my 19yearold mom. After all these years she had the same one that was originally issued to her. Then, my dad and I parted ways from my mom. The rest of us, plus friends of the family, made our way to our seats. The people becoming citizens went to their assigned seats.
It was great to see so many people there supporting their family members at the ceremony. There were so many people at the ceremony that it was a standing room only affair. It looked like almost all of the seats on stage were taken up. My dad and I theorized about the number of people filling the huge ballroom.
The ceremony began. Acclaimed visitors and speakers were introduced, and the judge took her place. She said that even though this was a court proceeding, that it was informal and we could get up and take pictures of our loved ones. She talked about how this was one of her favorite cases because it was for such a happy occasion. The judge talked about her family’s origins and told the story of how they got here.
Next, a lawyer took the podium and made a moving speech. He spoke about many things, including how hard everyone had worked to be there that day, the importance of family and the "American Dream". Usually I roll my eyes at this kind of stuff but, this day, this speech was different; it had so much meaning and its tone of acceptance was moving. I definitely teared up during it. The lawyer also reminded the audience how important this ceremony was and how happy he was to see everyone there, saying that America was built by immigrants, that what makes us great is our diversity. He encouraged people not to forget about where they come from and to pass on their culture to their kids so that it would not be lost. One of the last things he discussed was about how children are our future; how they will keep building and maintain our country.
After the speech the judge returned to the podium. She told the audience that there were over 130 people becoming citizens, and that they were from over 35 different countries. Then she recognized every country by having the people stand up when she said each nation’s name. Some of the countries included Mexico, Cuba, Germany (where my mom is from), Russia, England, Canada, Iran, Iraq, China, and South America.
For the participants to fully become a citizen, they had to say the Pledge of Allegiance and then take an oath. The time had finally come. Then, the audience was given a short time to go and find their loved ones and take photos. After that there was a video message from President Obama and citizenship was bestowed. Finally, joy and pride radiated througout the room, I have never felt more proud to be an American that I did at that moment.