How I Learned What It Means To Be An American, In Amarillo
This past week, I witnessed first hand just how much it means to be an American. As a native-born citizen, I experienced something that I think every American should see. I attended a Naturalization Oath Ceremony in downtown Amarillo at the J. Marvin Jones Federal Building and Mary Lou Robinson United States Courthouse. This is where hard-working men and women are finally sworn in as United States citizens. They have filled out stacks of paperwork, studied for countless hours, taken practice tests, been fingerprinted, photographed, interviewed and tested by federal agents, and finally sworn in as a US citizen. In this article, I am going to share the journey of my boss at the radio station, Carolyn, what I experienced at the oath ceremony, and why I think you should see one for yourself. I ask one thing of you while reading all of this (I get a bit wordy), please don't read politics into any of what I am saying. I am not writing it from the left or right winged perspective, just one of a proud United States of America citizen.
Carolyn's Experience Becoming A Citizen
My boss Carolyn has been going through the process of becoming a citizen for over 5 years. She was Canadian born, however, has been living and working as a permanent resident in the United States for many years. Even at over 5 years to become a citizen, she will tell you there her process was not nearly as hard as others on the same journey. Coming from Canada, she already spoke perfect English which is a huge advantage. She was also coming from another country which has great relations with the United States. But, it still took lawyers, applications, background checks, etc. to get to this point.
My Experience Attending Her Oath Ceremony
When I arrived at the courthouse, I had no idea what to expect for the oath ceremony. Even as a guest and spectator, the process is a little intimidating. Since you are entering a federal building, it is not much different than what you experience getting on an airplane. Shoes, belts, jackets, anything metal, and all the contents of your pockets have to be removed. Unlike the airport, there are no chairs to sit and prepare for your security check. Your items are sent through a scanner, then you are off to go through the metal detector. If you get the alarm, you know what is next, the wand search. Once you are past security, you are ushered to a hallway to wait until it is time to enter the courtroom. There is a lot of standing and waiting. Inside the courtroom, it is just like an episode of Law & Order. Typical courtroom and there is no doubt you are in a federal courtroom. Carolyn was sitting near the front of the room, with her back to me, and was surrounded by 69 other people that were about to become official United States citizens.
That's right, there were 70 people from 17 different countries that were there to join our nation legally. Folks from Sri Lanka, South Africa, Canada, Russia, Mexico, and so forth. I wish I could remember every single country listed because it was amazing to hear about people from every corner of our world wanting to be Americans.
The program started with the Honorable Lee Ann Reno entering the courtroom as the presiding judge. Throughout the ceremony, she spoke several times and acted as the master of ceremonies. There was a presentation of the applicants, the judge then gave the oath to all the applicants, local singer Sydney Rieff sang our national anthem, then Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson spoke as the guest speaker. We all recited the Pledge of Alliance, then the new citizens were each called by name to receive their documentation and the Flag Codes of the United States.
What We Should All Take Away From This
Getting back to one part of the ceremony - the Oath of Allegiance. Have you ever read or heard the United States of America Oath of Allegiance? Nope, neither had I. The oath is a big reason why I think everyone should attend one of these ceremonies. That day, I learned something about our country I never knew. I got to hear 73 people take a pledge to renounce their former country and government, to bear true faith and allegiance, to fight for our country when called upon, and to serve our country in whatever capacity a citizen is needed. As a 35-year-old American, I wanted to take that oath too. For us that are born into this country, we grow up taking a lot for granted. Those 70 folks want to be Americans so bad, they are ready to take on the charges named above in that oath and proud to do it voluntarily. No one is forcing them to do this whole process. Have you ever been asked to take on the same responsibilities that they just agreed to? I think we should all take that oath at some point in our life. It just might help some of us in this country appreciate what it is to be an American and how badly others want to be brothers and sisters with us.
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
I couldn't help but feel a wash of pride over me as I heard each of their names called and they handed them citizenship certificates. There were smiles, tears of joy, and a room full of proud people. Look at the photo at top of this article. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. For most of us, our family tree is made up of immigrants. We have more in common with those 70 people than we truly realize. But because we grew up here, we don't realize what it is like to not be Americans. However, that day, I truly learned what it was to be a proud American.
How To Attend An Oath Ceremony
If you would like to attend: Naturalization Oath Ceremonies are open to the public, however, depending on the size of the room and amount of people, you may not be allowed in. Don't let that stop you from trying. If you want to attend, and like I said I think you should, you can find the schedule for Amarillo and other locations in Texas here.