SEATTLE – U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal delivered the following remarks at a Naturalization Ceremony in Seattle where 500 new citizens were welcomed:
Fellow citizens, today, you begin a new chapter in the history of America. You join tens of millions of people from around the world on a journey of migration. Some of you have come under the most dire of conditions, escaping war or persecution. Some to escape drought or famine. Some with dreams of opportunity for your children and grandchildren. All with a belief in something that wasn’t possible before this land of opportunity. That journey of migration to a new country is one of the most courageous acts a person can take. Today, we celebrate that courage as we welcome you as United States citizens. Thank you for choosing America as your new home.
Renouncing your citizenship to your birth country may be an easy choice for some of you, and a very difficult one for others. But never forget that while you have renounced your previous citizenship, you do not give up your own history and culture. Bring those with you to this melting pot we call America. They will shape others and you, too, will be shaped by others who bring different cultures and customs with them. Teach us about your music, your literature, your celebrations, your customs. And learn from others about theirs. Choose what you leave behind and what you nurture, as you shape a new life here in America.
You will have hardships because that is the nature of life. Build your community to help with that journey. Reach outward to those around you, even those who may seem too different. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about building a beloved community, a community where we care for each other, take responsibility for our actions and participate in building a more perfect union.
America is not perfect but you are the ones that will help shape America in new ways for that more perfect union. The gifts and talents you offer to America are singular to you. We want to see you flower and grow, to be the fullest person you can be. That is the American Dream.
I have lived that American Dream myself. Twenty two years ago,
I sat where you are—at a naturalization ceremony to partake in the great honor of becoming a United States citizen.
Born in India, I came to America when I was 16 years old, by myself. My parents had $5,000 in their bank account when they sent me here, making the ultimate sacrifice of living on a different continent than their child. They made that sacrifice because they believed in America, this nation that has become a symbol of freedom and opportunity around the world.
Like many of you, I navigated a complex immigration system for 17 years before I finally became a US citizen.
Today, 22 years after I celebrated my first Independence Day as a proud United States citizen, I stand before you as the first South Asian American woman ever elected to the House of Representatives, as one of only two dozen naturalized citizens to serve in the U.S. Congress, and with the tremendous honor of representing the constituents of this area in Congress and doing the work with you to build that more perfect union.
So today, as you celebrate becoming a United States citizen, remember that citizenship is not just an honor. It is also a responsibility. You are now part of the world’s oldest democracy, a democracy that requires the participation of each and every one of you as a citizen with the right—and the responsibility to vote in every election.
That right to vote was won through hard battles where many before you lost their lives. Your vote and your active engagement in the issues that your family and community face are your chance to have your own unique voice heard in our systems of power. No democracy can survive without each one of our citizens participating and taking seriously this responsibility, this opportunity to build OUR America—together.
Congratulations on becoming a citizen of the United States. It is the honor of my lifetime to welcome you and the great contributions I know each of you will make with wide open arms.