Becoming a Citizen

Last week we celebrated Bill of Rights Day here at the National Archives in my favorite activity—a Naturalization Ceremony in the Rotunda.  On December 15, 1791, the first ten amendments the Constitution were adopted and for many years we have been marking the anniversary by hosting the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s swearing-in ceremony for new citizens of the United States.

This year, 19 individuals became citizens.  They came from Armenia, Canada, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Nigeria, Venezuela, Pakistan, Peru, United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka.  If you have never seen the course of instruction and examination which prospective citizens complete, it is worth a look.   Take the test yourself and see how you do!  I always find it a good reminder of how lucky we are and how much we take for granted about our rights and freedoms.

The Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia, administered the Oath of Allegiance and then shared the story of discovering his own family’s French Huguenot background.  I had an opportunity to remind them of their new responsibilities as citizens (see my remarks) and to share the story of my grandparents’ arrival from Italy.

Our special guest speaker stole the show with his story of growing up in a small town in France, leaving home at age 14 to take a job with a baker, and Rosalynn Carter’s role in his becoming a citizen of the United States.   Roland Mesnier was the White House Executive Pastry Chef from 1979 to 2004.   His words were especially meaningful to these new citizens, spoken from the heart, with demands for them to contribute in making this country even better than it is.

The ceremony has become my favorite activity because it puts into perspective everything that we do on a daily basis to collect, protect, and encourage the use of the records that guarantee our freedoms and those extended to the new citizens.  The ceremony is open to the public, as are similar ceremonies throughout the year around the country.  Attend one!

3 thoughts on “Becoming a Citizen

  1. Wonderful post, David. I second your concluding sentence, “Attend one!” As you know, I was a spectator at the ceremony you described and found it very moving. Chef Mesnier’s remarks were beautiful and particularly touching for me, as the daughter of naturalized citizens who came to the U.S. as refugees after World War II. Seeing the ceremony in the Rotunda is such a powerful, indeed awesome, reminder of what becoming a U.S. citizen is all about.
    NARA’s Archivesnews Flickr feed includes some beautiful photos of a similar ceremony held recently at your agency’s Atlanta facility. So glad NARA hosts these events and pleased you wrote about last week’s ceremony!

  2. As the child of immigrants, naturalization ceremonies are particularly meanigful to me. I love it when someone jokingly questions my mom’s “American-ness.” She always responds with a twinkle in her Irish eyes, “You may be an American by birth, but you had no choice in the matter. I am an American by choice.”

    I’d love to attend a naturalization ceremony hosted at the Archives. Any way we could list the ceremonies planned for 2012 on our website (and maybe link it to this blog entry as well?)

  3. Tara, I love your story about your Mom. What a great quote! Has a lot of resonance for me, too. The DC area ceremony was listed in the December Calendar of Events on the NARA external website. People in the regions can check the calendar by location to see when similar ceremonies are held at your other facilities. I’m a former NARA employee and member of the Foundation for the National Archives and get mailings about some events. But I also I check the DC area calendar towards the end of each month to see what else is coming up, as the next month’s events calendar usually is posted a week or two before the end of the prior month.

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