A group of us from the office went over to the WorldFest today for lunch. This two-day festival draws together all the cultures to be found in Louisville and anyone who knows the city knows we have quite a few. From eastern Europeans to Indians and Asians and Africans and, mostly, Latinos from throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Today we got 371 more. Walking back to the office, I cut through the Kentucky Center for the Arts where a ceremony had just concluded with United States Judge John Heyburn administering the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America to these 371 new fellow Americans.
Here is the standard Oath:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Although I missed the actual ceremony today (by just minutes) I have witnessed these ceremonies in the past. I recall one in the Federal Court House on Broadway and another in Jefferson Square several years ago. This is the fifth year in a row that such a ceremony has taken place during the WorldFest celebration. They are among the most emotional of events I've ever attended. And there are no words to fully express the jubilation in the room afterwards. Cameras flashing, videos rolling, and phones flicking of the new Americans holding their Certificates of Naturalization and Citizenship. These new Americans and their families spilled out the back doors of The Center into the WorldFest, and out the front doors onto Main Street, the main street of a city, state, and nation they can now call their own, most carrying a small version of the Stars and Stripes alongside their Citizenship papers. I congratulate them one and all.
And, just for a minute, take the time to re-read the oath these new Americans took. It is an oath of words which none of us born within the boundaries of America have probably ever uttered. Most of it would be second nature to most of us, but there is that one line - "that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law . . ." Would all of us answer such a call were it made? "Civilian direction" I suppose (and I am strictly guessing) means a call by the mayor or governor or president to do some duty in times of need. My only recollection in recent memory of such a call was from President Bush after the events of September 11, when he told us all to go shopping, to keep the business of America going. While he was ridiculed at the time for such a menial request, it probably was in the national interest.
We all take our citizenship for granted. We shouldn't as these 371 new Americans demonstrated today. To them I say congratulations and welcome to the family, welcome home.