By John P. Rattigan
It’s coming up again, just as it does every year. As usual there will be a Presidential proclamation and the day will, otherwise, slip by unnoticed. Like most anniversaries it will come and go, not to be thought of again until it peeks out from next year’s calendar page.
The date I’m talking about is September 17th and it is known as Citizenship Day. It was established by Congress in 1952 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution of the United States on September 17th, 1787. But unlike its older brother, Independence Day, there will be no holiday from the job, no fireworks and no backyard barbecues to mark the occasion. But Congress wisely had another and more contemporary purpose in mind when designating this day – to honor those who had become American citizens during the preceding year, something that more than half a million did these past twelve months.
This is one of those remarkable few instances that comes to mind when Congress seems to have gotten things exactly right. Citizenship Day honors dreamers – the dreamers of long ago who fashioned what is now the world’s oldest living constitution and the dreamers of today whose allegiance to that document came, not by birthright, but often after traveling a long and sometimes winding road. These different generations are linked by the shared gift of imagination that allowed them to see a vision of life, not as it is, but as what it could be.
On September 27th, at the Seaport Convention Center, thousands of new Americans will be sworn-in at one of the largest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (U.S.C.I.S.) naturalization ceremonies in Boston to date. Clients of the Irish International Immigrant Center will be well represented among those who will take the oath of naturalization.
U.S.C.I.S. tells us that the current processing time for naturalization applications is approximately four months. In truth, the actual process begins at a much earlier time. It starts on the day when the dream was born. It was the day the person finally made the life altering decision to leave homeland and family behind and set out upon a journey to a strange and distant shore. The motive was not so much a leaving behind but, rather, a yearning to move toward something – a goal, a job, a loved one or to search for whatever else it is we think we need to make our lives complete.
Naturalization marks the end of that journey, a journey to a home, not their first home but in all likelihood the place where they will live out the remainder of their lives working, marrying, raising children and growing old. They now join the ranks of other generations which, through the ages, have each woven their own threads into the fabric of this unfinished tapestry that is called America. That pithy sounding Latin phrase on the back of our coins may seem a little old fashioned nowadays, but it still holds the best explanation as to who we truly are – “one out of many”.
Last week on September 11th we recalled another event of the recent past of a much sadder kind. While it is important not to forget, it is good to remember that we also live in an age where we can enjoy and appreciate the outcome of “the great experiment” that the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they set out on their task to form a fledgling nation 226 years ago.
You don’t have to be at the Seaport Convention Center watching thousands of your neighbors becoming citizens to feel a little pride; you just have to know that it happened and that it continues to happen. This country needs dreamers. It always did and it always will. As discouraging and unsettled as the future often seems, so long as America is the destination of these dreamers, and the wonderful gifts they bring with them, then this country will be okay. So, go ahead, share in the celebration. It’s your dream too.
John Rattigan is a member of the Citizenship Services staff at the Irish International Immigrant Center
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