Friday, May 30, 2008

Naturalization Ceremony

Yesterday morning I had the honor of speaking before 3,000 new American citizens during a naturalization ceremony - here is what I said:

Good morning to you all.

Let me thank Linda Swacina for inviting me to this ceremony.

Let me also thank former CIS director, Dr. Emilio Gonzalez who is in the audience with us. I hope you are enjoying your return home.

Being mayor, I get asked to speak at a lot of events, to a great number of audiences. Each is special and unique in their own way – but today is very special for me. I will never forget the day when I sat where you are, receiving my citizenship. How excited and proud I felt. And so, today it is a real honor for me to address you on this occasion, on your day.

Today, you begin your new lives as American citizens– it is a day of celebration, and of relief. I know that for many of you this has been a long and a difficult process. Some of you came fleeing oppression, some of you came looking for a better life, but today all of you are part of our nation, a nation with a long history built on the stories of men and women just like you, who from many, have all become one.

You have much to be proud of, and this is a moment for you and your families to savor and to never forget.

As you celebrate, I ask that you keep in mind 3 things – they are 3 easy things, but they are things that every citizen should remember, and every citizen must do.

First - Be informed. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, a democracy cannot survive without an informed citizenry. It is as simple as reading a newspaper, watching the news on tv or the internet. And then, don’t take what you read for granted. When you read a news story, do not accept it at face value, but try to understand the why, the how, and the reason behind the story.

We are blessed to live in a country with a professional and a free press. They are often the eyes and ears of the people. But that does not mean you are relieved of this responsibility. It is up to each and every one of you to become informed, attend government meetings, discuss this with your friends, learn about where you live.

And while you enjoy these political and personal freedoms, know this, that these freedoms require a duty and a responsibility from all of us.

This brings me to my second point: get involved.

The easiest way to do this is to vote – in fact, I believe you can register to vote as soon as you step outside. There are tables set up ready to sign you up. And either party, or no party, is fine, as long as you register to vote. One of the many great things about this country is that you can keep a person like me in office or you can kick me out, at the ballot box.

If there is something you don’t like, don’t just complain about it, change it. That’s why I ran for office. There were things about city government I did not like so I ran for office and now i am changing them.

Get involved in our community. This reminds me of the story of William Dawes. Unless you are a history professor or watch a lot of history channel, William Dawes might not ring a bell. But what about Paul Revere? We all know him – the ride on horseback, the British are coming.

Well, Dawes rode the same night as Revere, but why do we not remember him?

Revere was involved in the community; he was someone people saw every day. Dawes was not. It was easy for people to then remember Paul Revere because he was involved in the daily life of his community. This is why I encourage you to join a community group – answer the call to jury duty – even run for office. Be a part of our community; be remembered for what you do.

Take the pride you feel today, take everything this country has given to you, and give something back.

Finally, I ask you to love this country because this is indeed a great country. Where else can a six year old boy arrive on his mother’s lap, without a penny to their name, and grow up to be the mayor of one of America’s greatest cities?

Learn about all the great many people who changed our country for the better – many of them immigrants just like you and I.

Learn about our history, about what makes us who we are. When we celebrate Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans and President’s Day, know that it is more than a day off, but why we pause to remember and to honor those that came before us

When we listen to our national anthem, know that it was written during a time of war, when we were under attack, and the exclamation of hope and relief when amidst the fire and rocket blasts, our flag was still there.

Know that today all of you become sons and heirs to the greatest political experiment in history – the idea that we are not to be ruled by kings or despots, or ruled by one man or one group, but that we rule ourselves, with rights handed to us by our creator, that government operates with the consent of the governed, and that all men are created equal.

These were and still are radical ideas – and they are ideas worth having, ideas worth fighting for.

Ours is the only country that inspires a dream, and today all of you share in it.

It does not matter what corner of the world you come from, what language you speak, what flag you were born under, today we are all Americans – and we have this common thread.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and all our founding fathers brought forth L’Ouverture, Bolivar, Marti and many around the world whom even today struggle for liberty, struggle for the idea that every man and woman should live free.

Congratulations to you all – God bless you, and may God bless America.