Welcome to America!

By Mark Krikorian on June 10, 2009
Address by Mark Krikorian to 972 new citizens on Wednesday, June 3, 2009, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, Calif.

Welcome to America!

That may sound a little funny, since you all have lived here for many years already; you can't become a citizen until living here for at least five years, and for most of you, it’s probably been longer than that.

But until two minutes ago, you were in America, but not of America – that's what changed with the oath you've just taken.

During the many years you've already been here, you’ve learned the basics of living in America – you've learned how to look for a job, get an apartment, maybe buy a house or start a business, sign your kids up for school. You've probably also had some awkward experiences, that you may laugh about now but that were embarrassing at the time.

My own grandfather had an awkward experience like that. When he came here about 100 years ago as a teenager, he went to join relatives outside Boston. They'd told him to take the "car" – meaning the train or trolley car – to their home. But like many immigrants, they'd already started to use English words while speaking Armenian – so they used the English word car. But my grandfather didn't know any English, and he thought they meant the Armenian words that's pronounced "car," which means rock or stone. So he found his way to their house, and showed them the rock he'd brought, asking why they needed it.

Those difficult moments are long past you now. But until today, no matter how comfortable you might have been, you were still not Americans. This ability to become an American is not something most countries allow. An Irishman, after all, can’t become Chinese, nor can a Mexican become Somali. But anyone, no matter what country he came from, can become an American.

And this business of becoming an American is not a simple thing like getting a new apartment or buying a new suit of clothes – it's more like getting married or joining a new faith.

In the Jewish religion there's the idea that a person who converts to that faith was present in spirit when Moses delivered the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai 4,000 years ago, even though his own ancestors weren't there. In a non-religious sense, becoming an American citizen is similar – you are now present in spirit at the important moments in your new nation's history:

Even though your ancestors – and mine – weren't there, you were present in spirit in 1621 when the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

Even though your ancestors weren't in Philadelphia in 1776, you were present in spirit when our Founding Fathers – your Founding Fathers – signed the Declaration of Independence.

Even though your ancestors weren't there, you were present in spirit in Utah in 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed, joining for the first time ever the East Coast and the West Coast.

And even though your ancestors weren't there, you were present in spirit when the Marines raised the flag – your flag – on Iwo Jima during World War II.

But you don't inherit only the good parts of American history when you become a citizen. Our darker moments – slavery, Jim Crow – are now also yours. Yesterday, they weren't your problem; you could still say that you weren't here and you weren't responsible. But what that piece of paper you're going to get in a minute means is that now they are your problem. You, like other Americans, will all have different ideas of what, if anything, to do about it – but that debate is now one you are part of.

I don't want to hold up this ceremony any longer. Let me leave you only with this thought: We are sharing not only our past with you, but also our future. We ask only that you love America, honor her, and cherish her, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

God bless you and God bless America.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out Know-Nothings vs. Restrictionists and "I Absolutely and Entirely Renounce...".