Every year on Independence Day, at the Seattle Center, in the open air Fisher Pavilion, a naturalization ceremony is held.
I’d never gone, but I live fairly close to it, it was a nice day, and I didn’t have much else going on, so I ventured over.
Politicians were there all in abundance. The mayor of Seattle (Ed Murray), the county executive (Dow Constantine), the state governor (Jay Inslee), one of Washington’s senators (Maria Cantwell), and a smattering of city and county council members were there. A number of representatives from various embassies were there as well.
I was worried, with that many politicians all on one stage, that it could have turned into a marathon of speaking. Fortunately, they were all pretty disciplined and limited their words. They were all warm and gracious, welcoming the new Americans and encouraging them to make their mark on the country. There was much talk of the wonders of diversity. There were oblique words about the special challenges that immigrants are having at this time in our history. In this great liberal mecca words were spoken, albeit in the typically near Canadian levels of politeness that passes for political discourse in this city, that we had their backs. Time will tell if that is in fact true.
There were over five hundred people taking the oath today. They represented sixty nine countries. It was an amazing array of diversity. There were people from Burkina Faso, Tonga, Albania, Jordan, France, Tunisia, Iran, and Iraq, among so many others. For each country, the mayor (who was emceeing it all) would read the number of people represented and then they would all stand. The big winners were Canada, Mexico, Philippines, China, and India (yay, my software brethren!).
There were some surprises. There was one person from Finland. What the fuck? Don’t you know that you’re coming from one of the happiest countries in the world? Where education is free? Where healthcare is free? Where you don’t feel the need to arm yourself? It had to be for love, and it’d better work out.
There was one person from Syria. Yes, that Syria. The Syria that, at least according to some in our leadership, apparently has made plans to send their young men over to wreak terror on our soil. The newly minted American from Syria stood to wave his little American flag and the crowd cheered loudly. There was a short pause, and then the mayor quietly said, “and we give you a special welcome”, to yet more crowd cheers.
This was about as non-ironically American as you can get. The Veterans of Foreign Wars handed out small US flags to everyone. The Navy band played patriotic standards. The Star Spangled Banner was beautifully sung. A gospel choir sang God Bless America. Adorable little children wearing the native garb of their respective country gathered on the stage to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A Native American storyteller told a story about that most magical of tricksters, the Raven. After they recited their naturalization oath (there’s an oath that needs to be updated…abjure…potentate…seriously?), all of the newly minted citizens jubilantly waved their little US flags while their relatives cheered them on.
After they were excused to perform the final step of turning in their green cards, I watched them walk by. Some were old (the oldest was 85), some were young (maybe in their 20’s), some were wearing their finest clothes, some were in jeans and t-shirts, some were somber, some were jubilant.
But all were Americans. I can only hope that the day never comes that people don’t want to come to America to pursue their dreams. And that the day will never come when we don’t let them.