Most times, said Judge Burns, when people leave her courtroom, half are happy, half unhappy. But making new citizens was a moment of unadulterated joy. She urged us to vote and to preserve whatever culture and heritage we had brought with us. And she thanked us for letting her be the judge who swore us in.
We received our certificates of naturalization and a yellow envelope marked “The White House.” In it was a “Dear Fellow American” letter from President Obama. “Since our founding, generations of immigrants have come to this country full of hope for a brighter future, and they have made sacrifices in order to pass that legacy on to their children and grandchildren,” he wrote. “This is the price and the promise of citizenship. You are now part of this precious history, and you serve as an inspiration to those who will come after you.”
The U.S. does this language so well. It is an antidote to cynicism. It revealed to me what a frail and incomplete thing it had been to live here as an observer rather than a full participant in civic life. I wish that those Americans who trash their country for its failings or doubt the value of their citizenship could give it up and reapply for it, just to see with fresh eyes what an astonishing gift it still is.