Today, Sept. 17, is Citizenship Day and the start of Constitution Week, an opportunity for us all to reflect on what it means to be an American.
Some of the most enthusiastic supporters of this country are people who’ve had to work to become a part of it. To see patriotism on display, attend a naturalization ceremony, which marks the culmination of a years-long process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
My favorite part of these happy occasions is when people stand up and tell everyone what this country means to them. They say how grateful they are, how proud they are to call themselves Americans. They pose for pictures with their families in front of the flag. They can’t stop smiling — even though many have tears in their eyes.
Sometimes they talk about how difficult it was for them to come here, to meet all the requirements. It’s not an easy process, becoming a U.S. citizen. You have to learn English. You have to learn about our government, our history. You have to pass written and oral tests and you have to pay fees.
To help people who are eligible to become citizens, I joined Cities for Citizenship, a coalition of nearly 40 cities and counties promoting naturalization.
Working with local partner organizations, we put together information on test preparation for the English and civics tests, as well as loans to help with filing and biometric fees. We started with my office, Chicanos por la Causa, Citi, Pima Community College, Pima County Public Library, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Vantage West Credit Union. Since then, more than 30 other organizations have joined this effort. You can access the resources on my website, mayorrothschild.com/citizen, including some we created (the citizenship loans) and some that have been around for years, such as the free English classes provided by Literacy Connects and Pima Community College.
I know this information has been helpful to people, because at a naturalization ceremony I hosted recently at City Hall, one new American said she couldn’t have achieved her dream of becoming a citizen without it.
It’s humbling to hear how hard people have worked to accomplish what most of us were born with.
When I speak at these events, to these new citizens and their families, I focus on American values. I tell them these values are under attack as they have not been for many years.
American values include the belief in equal opportunity — including access to a good education that teaches you to understand what you read and to think critically.
They include the belief in freedom of speech, but they also include the responsibility not to use that freedom to lie. Lies have the potential to destroy people and organizations, institutions and governments.
American values include the belief in equal protection under the law — regardless of gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, disability or any other characteristic.
I tell these new citizens — all of whom passed a civics test — that every day is a civics test. Every day is an opportunity to live by and defend these values. And every two, or four, or six years, we have the responsibility to vote for people who will uphold these values.
Meeting our newest citizens face to face and seeing their joy is inspiring. It reminds me of what’s best about this country, what it can and does mean to be an American.