Sunday, March 10, 2013
... and to look into those upturned faces almost cost all the composure I could muster.
The Boy Scouts making their entrance Presenting the Colors; the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag; listening to the national anthem sung by a fine tenor from the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts ... watching the faces as new citizens raised their hands in the Oath of Allegiance to their new country ...
... yet learning just as I was about to climb the steps to the raised platform to deliver the welcoming address -- that the invitation for my doing so had come from the US Immigration Service and Homeland Security Agency. I had been under the impression that this was simply an assignment that fell to me as a member of the Outreach team. I didn't know that my delivering of the keynote address was by a request from the partnering agency as the result of a talk I'd given there some time ago. Perhaps this was best since I may have felt an added pressure and placed unnecessarily higher expectations on myself to perform well. As it happened, attempting to write an appropriate welcoming speech against the background of the news coming out of the Supreme Court on the hearings for whether or not to renew the Voters Rights Act -- the awfulness of Justice Scalia's comments, and the continuing silence of Justice Clarence Thomas -- was stress enough.
The New York Times editorialized in yesterday's edition that the Roberts Court appears to be preparing to "eviscerate the Voters Rights Act." Images of police dogs and fire hoses at the bridge in Selma years ago -- the brutal beatings that left Rep. John Lewis fighting for his life -- the high costs to the nation's honor; against the current practices now in place to discourage voting in some states. Those images freshened and threatened my ability to stand apart long enough to allow the words to come that would allow me to remain truthful to my principles and yet to express the true patriotism that I do feel and can still express in my work.
What saved me in the end was that it eventually occurred to me that there was simply no way for me to welcome new citizens into Thomas's or Scalia's United States, but that the nation in which I believed was worthy of their allegiance. So I welcomed them into my imperfect and ever-evolving land of hopeful and worthy Americans who, in complete faith that unseen others are out there leaning in the direction of positive change with us, and that we will ultimately prevail.
These Nationalization Day events are held several times each year at various park sites and are a joint collaboration of the National Park Service and the US Immigration Service and Homeland Security Agency based in San Francisco.
So memorable ... such an honor to have been a part of the fulfillment of the dreams for 75 new Americans, friends, and families.