© David Dorner ID 1683489 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© David Dorner ID 1683489 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

MONTERREY--Welcoming New U.S. Citizens

Watching dozens of immigrants become new US citizens, I'm not sure who was more emotional. Them or me.

Debbie Monterrey
August 20, 2018 - 11:45 am
Categories: 

by Debbie Monterrey, [email protected]

There are few things that make me feel more patriotic than seeing people become citizens of the United States. I've only ever seen clips of naturalization ceremonies on TV, so I knew that when I brought my Girl Scout troop to the Eagleton Federal Courthouse to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the ceremony held July 20th, I'd better have tissues in my purse. (Yes, I needed them. This column turns out to be as much about citizenship/immigration as my propensity for weeping).

My own parents went through this process. The year I was born, they became U.S. citizens. My father's family came to this country first. My mother followed a year later to marry my dad (thanks to "chain-migration" or "family migration" that also just helped Melania Trump's parents come here and become citizens). 

My mother has told me how emotional she was the day she became a citizen. How hard she had studied the material for the citizenship test, and her English as well. It wasn't easy to pass and she believes (and I think rightly so) that new U.S. citizens know much more than the average American about this country, because the stakes are so high for passing this test (you only get two tries). 

A few months before my Girl Scouts took part in this naturalization ceremony, we took them to the International Institute to sit in on citizenship classes to see first-hand what immigrants and refugees go through to become naturalized. An instructor gave the girls a sample test and, suffice it to say, their 7th grade education didn't cut it! It was even a challenge for the grown-ups along for the ride (out of all in our group who took it, only one of us passed).

New American Citizens at Naturalization Ceremony in St. Louis
New American Citizens at Naturalization Ceremony in St. Louis, Photo by Debbie Monterrey

On a hot July day, Cadette Troop 3334 entered a packed courtroom at the top of the Eagleton Courthouse to see a rainbow of faces. On the program were 52 people from 29 countries. U.S. Magistrate Judge Noelle Collins asked each person to stand up, introduce themselves, state what country they were from and what job they currently held. (Already getting emotional!)

The Courthouse Singers sang "America the Beautiful." (Grab the tissues).

By the time my Girl Scouts and I were invited to stand up, I opened my mouth to say, "I pledge allegiance..." but could only croak out a few squeaks, I was all choked up and ready to sob! (And getting plenty of side-eye from my daughter. I'm so embarrassing). So I mouthed the words and looked around the room at all these new citizens clutching their little American flags, glowing with pride. Emotion filled the room.

Program for the Naturalization Ceremony
Program for the Naturalization Ceremony, photo by Debbie Monterrey

The Courthouse Singers broke into "The National Anthem." (Barely holding it together now, so I don't try to sing). Then, something not on the program. The Courthouse Singers walk up to the bench to confer with the judge, who then announces that something unprecedented would be happening in her courtroom. One of our newest citizens, a woman from China, was becoming a U.S. Citizen on her 80th birthday, and so, a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" was sung to her by all (except me, I was practically shoving a tissue down my throat).

We got a quick picture with Judge Collins and headed out of the courtroom. It took me a good 10-15 minutes to pull myself together. I felt like I might bust out sobbing at any moment (in a good way, it was just so emotional!)

As people filed out of the courtroom, clutching their flags, holding their new Certificate of Citizenship, registering to vote and hugging family and friends, I felt so proud to be an American.

With all the tumult and rancor of the last few years, it's been hard to feel that powerful tug of patriotism without it being weighed down by partisanship. But there, in that moment, I felt I'd received a great gift. 

 

Thank you and welcome, new citizens! And God Bless America.

Our St. Margaret's Girl Scout Troop with Judge Noelle Collins
Our St. Margaret's Girl Scout Troop with Judge Noelle Collins, Photo by Laura Keller

 

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