Over the summer, I was a guest at my first naturalization ceremony, held on the National Mall as a part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
I attended with other CLINIC Advocacy interns. For most of us, this was a new experience and one we really did not know much about.
It was a very heartwarming and beautiful event to be a part of. As I approached the tent, I could immediately feel the excitement in the air. I stood at the side of the main stage, next to a woman who was recording the event on Facebook Live and excitedly narrating what was happening in Spanish. She did not seem to be a guest of one of the people being naturalized, but the pride on her face as she excitedly explained what was happening was truly inspiring.
This event was a particularly special one because all of the people being naturalized were children, ranging in age from 5 to 13. There were 25 children from 17 different countries gaining U.S. citizenship on that day. While some of the children, especially the younger ones, may not have realized the importance of that moment, the affect was definitely not lost on their families.
As all of the children took the Oath of Allegiance and were called up one by one to receive their Certificates of Citizenship, you could see and feel the emotions of the families in the audience. People stood and cheered for each child as they walked to the front of the group to shake hands with the presenter and smile for a picture. During these moments, while I enjoyed watching the children happily receive their certificate, I found myself more focused on the families that were beaming with pride and joy and perhaps even hope. The naturalization of these children was clearly an important moment for their families as well.
Not only were family and friends in attendance, but so were videographers, reporters and others who may have just been in the area for the festival and decided to check out the commotion under the big tent. No matter their personal connection to the ceremony, it was hard for anyone, myself included, not to smile as the children excitedly basked in their moment. Naturalizing opens so many doors for them and provides both them and their families with opportunities they may not have had otherwise.
Although the current political climate is leaning toward stricter immigration laws, and we don’t know what the future may hold for other immigrants, I am just so happy I was able to witness such a joyous and historic moment in these families’ lives.
Frances Lawson was a Summer intern with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.