ATLANTA - Today, I am reaffirming my love for our country.
For me, Independence Day has never been about store sales and barbecues. It is a reminder of how fortunate I am to have been born here. With a twist of fate, I could’ve been born in Cuba. I thank GOD I wasn’t!
Thus, I have always embraced being an American. I can’t read enough about our history —all of it. So, when I was asked to be the keynote speaker for a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Naturalization ceremony I jumped at the opportunity.
It was the same kind of ceremony my own parents went through some 50 years before, so you can imagine what a profound moment it was for me and my family.
Below is the speech I delivered to 128 of our newest Americans. They were from every corner of the world! May they inspire you as they did me.
3.4.16 NATURALIZATION CEREMONY (updated 3.1.16 11am)
MY FELLOW CITIZENS.
MY FELLOW AMERICANS!
IT IS A THRILL AND HONOR TO BE IN YOUR PRESENCE.
YOU CHOSE TO BECOME A UNITED STATES CITIZEN! AND THAT INSPIRES ME!
AND YOU SHOULD NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER YOU HAVE TO INSPIRE AND RE-ENERGIZE PATRIOTISM IN OTHERS.
YOU ARE THE FRESHEST/NEWEST AMERICANS. AND THE MOST APPRECIATIVE OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ONE.
YOU HAVE DEDICATED YOURSELVES TO BECOMING AMERICANS. AND OUR COUNTRY.eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee “OUR COUNTRY” --WILL BE BETTER FOR IT!
YOU HAVE ALSO INHERITED THE DNA THAT MOTIVATES US ALL TO SEEK EXCELLENCE... AND TO NURTURE LIBERTY AND FREEDOM.
MY OWN MOTHER AND FATHER WERE NOT BORN HERE.
THEY WERE BORN IN CUBA.
MY GRANDPARENTS FROM SPAIN.
TO THIS DAY.. I HAVE A VIVID MEMORY OF MY FATHER, WHO WAS BARELY ABLE TO SPEAK ENGLISH, SITTING ALONE ON THE SIDE OF THE BATHROOM TUB, WITH HEAD DOWN, HANDS CLASPED AS IF IN PRAYER, AND EYES CLOSED IN TOTAL CONCENTRATION.. SINGING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM TO HIMSELF.
***YOU KNOW HOW TOUGH THAT SONG IS TO LEARN.
EVEN TOUGHER NOT TO SING IT OUT OF TUNE --LIKE MY FATHER DID!!!
BUT HE WANTED IT!
HE WANTED IT JUST LIKE YOU!
WHILE WE ARE PROUD OF OUR SPANISH HERITAGE, WE WERE RAISED TO BE AMERICANS FIRST.
MOM AND DAD RAISED ME TO BELIEVE IN THE AMERICAN DREAM. THEY RAISED ME TO BELIEVE THAT IF YOU WORKED HARD AND GAVE SOMETHING BACK, YOU COULD DO ANYTHING.
AND AS A RESULT, AMERICA HAS BEEN VERY GOOD TO MY FAMILY.
THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO PAY AMERICA BACK ---AND I DON’T MEAN BY JUST PAYING YOUR TAXES!!!
WE ALL HAVE TO PAY TAXES.
TEACH OTHERS WHAT YOU LEARNED ON THIS JOURNEY.
ABOUT THE FOUNDING OF THIS COUNTRY.
OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN AMERICAN.
TO LIVE OUT THE MEANING OF “LAND OF THE FREE AND HOME OF THE BRAVE.”
LADIES AND GENTLEMAN --AMERICA NEEDS YOU!
I KNOW THE JOURNEY HAS BEEN LONG. AND FOR SOME OF YOU, IT PROBABLY FELT LIKE THIS DAY WOULD NEVER COME.
BUT YOU’VE STUDIED HARD.
YOU’VE WORKED HARD.
AND YOU’VE TAKEN A SACRED OATH.
YOU ALREADY FELT LIKE AMERICANS IN YOUR HEARTS AND IN YOUR MINDS.
AND TODAY.. YOU ARE AMERICANS ON PAPER TOO!!!
YOU ARE NOT ROOKIES, 2ND OR 3RD CLASS CITIZENS. YOU ARE AMERICANS!
OUR FLAG BELONGS AS MUCH TO THE NEWLY NATURALIZED CITIZEN AS IT DOES TO THE PEOPLE WHO’S FAMILY HAVE BEEN HERE FOR GENERATIONS.
FOR ME, THE BEST, MOST ENTHUSIASTICLY PATRIOTIC AMERICANS WE HAVE ARE THE ONES WHO STAND IN PUBLIC --AS YOU HAVE DONE TODAY-- AND TELL THE WORLD --AND THIS NATION-- THAT YOU WANT TO BE AN AMERICAN! AND NOW YOU ARE!
MANY AMERICAN KNOW LESS ABOUT THEIR COUNTY AND HISTORY THAN YOU DO.
MANY DO NOT EXERCISE THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE OR BOTHER TO REGISTER TO VOTE.
MOST PEOPLE KNOW MORE ABOUT THE KARNDASHIANS THAN THEY DO ABOUT THE CONSITTUITON.
SOME AMERICANS JUST TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT IT TAKES!!!YOU STUDIED FOR IT.
YOU DREAMED ABOUT IT.
LOST SLEEP OVER IT.
BUT NOW YOU ARE LIVING IT.
YOU ARE NOW EQUAL TO EVERY OTHER CITIZEN OF THIS COUNTRY.
BUT BEING EQUAL IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH..
EVERY RIGHT HAS A RESPONSIBILITY.
AND OPPORTUNITY.. AN OBLIGATION.
WE NEED TO TAKE THOSE RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES AND PUT THEM TO GOOD USE.
YOU REMIND ME OF A COMMENCEMENT SPEECH GIVEN BY OUR 40TH PRESIDENT, RONALD REAGAN..
PART OF WHICH READS..
“"I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission was very simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here."”
Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals OF THIS NATION.””
LADIES AND GENTLEMAN..
IT IS NO LONGER ENOUGH TO JUST CALL YOURSELVES AMERICANS.
TO ONLY WAVE THE FLAG ON THE INDEPENDENCE DAY...
AMERICA NEEDS YOU.
AGAIN.. BECAUSE I HAVE THE GREATEST ADMIRATION FOR OUR NEWEST AMERICANS.. I CAME ACROSS THESE FANTASTIC WORDS FROM SOMEONE WHO WAS IN YOUR SHOES JUST A FEW SHORT YEARS AGO:
“SO AS WE TURN TO THE FLAG AND PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE AS NEW CITIZENS, WE SEE MORE THAN JUST THREE COLORS..
WE NOW UNDERSTAND WHAT'S BEHIND THAT FLAG.
WE UNDERSTAND FREEDOM, RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES.”
HE WENT ON TO SAY..
“YOU ARE NOW SHAPING THIS COUNTRY’S FUTURE.
BECAUSE FROM NOW ON, YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY AND THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES ARE NO LONGER SEPARATE!
SO, AFTER THE FIREWORKS AND THE PARADES END. AND THE ENORMITY OF BECOMING A UNITED STATES CITIZEN SETTLES IN, WE NEED TO TAKE PRIDE.. TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT. TAKE PRIDE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
AND WE NEED TO THINK OF WHAT WE CAN DO TO SHAPE THIS COUNTRY’S FUTURE.
THIS FLAG IS NOW YOUR FLAG!
AND MOST OF ALL, BE PROUD OF IT!
MY FELLOW AMERICANS..
YOUR WORK ISN’T THROUGH.
I WANT TO CHALLENGE YOU NOW.
TO INSPIRE OTHERS.
TO BE INFORMED AMERICANS.
TO BE APPRECIATIVE AMERICANS.
TO BE THE BEST AMERICANS THAT WE CAN BE.
AGAIN.. FROM RONALD REAGAN'S INNAUGURATION SPEECH --- A MAN WHO DEARLY LOVED HIS COUNTRY..
SPEAKING ABOUT WHAT HE SAW AT OUR NATIONAL MALL IN WASHINGTON, DC... --AND IF YOU’VE NEVER BEEN, PLEASE GO!-- IT’S A BEAUTIFUL PLACE.
“Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man, George Washington, father of our country. A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then, beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.
And after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans. Congratulations.
God bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.
Happy Independence Day!