A Tale of Two Citizenship Ceremonies

I don’t remember another time or event where I felt prouder to be an American, or more infused with a spirit of patriotism and love of country.

July 4, 2016 was beautiful, hot, and sunny. Janice and I planned to spend it at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford, NY. – a recreated historic village showing what life was like in the Genesee Valley’s 19th-century America.

It wasn’t our first visit.

Every year that I can,  I play my guitar and backup musicians playing jigs, reels, hornpipes, square dances and (of course) fiddle tunes at the annual Fiddlers’ Fair. We’ve attended lectures, learned how to make 19th century style cheese, watched farriers shoe horses, and a lot more.

The Museum is one of the jewels that makes living in the Finger Lakes region of New York State a blessing. It’s a cool way to spend a day, and the topper?

Two words: SENIOR DISCOUNT!!!

And every year, on July 4th, before friends, family and visitors, the Museum sponsors a naturalization ceremony where the Declaration of Independence is read, the Oath of Allegiance is administered, speeches extolling the virtues of citizenship are delivered, and finally, new citizens minted.

Although it was hot, we got chills watching Judge Frank Geraci Jr. swear in forty-one new citizens from 28 different countries, from Cuba to Canada, Syria to Singapore. It was sweet, sincere, and solemn – a day for celebration, a day where spirits soared, a day when divisiveness was vanquished.

Being a witness to this event was an honor and a powerful reminder that our country was founded and built by immigrants and is a beacon for principles of inclusiveness and opportunity. The exuberance of these new Americans and their families was contagious.

We couldn’t help but laugh, whistle, cheer and offer our heartfelt congratulations.

That day, we went home uplifted and proud to be an American.

Fast forward to August 25, 2020.

J and I are watching the 2nd night of the Republican National Conference on C-SPAN because we are desperate to find neutral ground amidst swarming vitriol and polemics.

In a hallway in the White House, two Marines stand guard at a door. They open it to the strains of “Hail to the Chief”. Donald Trump makes an entrance and strides towards a podium where five about to become citizens stand in a row, some wearing native garb, waving tiny American flags.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, whose legitimacy for the DHS position is questionable, administers the Oath of Allegiance, pays a fawning homage to Trump’s newly minted law and order platform, and steps aside to make way for the President whose powerful presence, size, and girth, dwarfs the attendees.

A few comments about immigration from one of the most anti-immigration Presidents ever, a few handshakes, and a few exchanged documents later, the sterile, dispiriting ceremony is over. Fade to black.

We’ve just witnessed a five minute commercial for the reelection of Donald Trump using immigrants as props in a setting so contrived, so stage managed and stiff, and so far removed in tone, temper and the exuberance from what we saw a few years earlier, that it was depressing.

This wasn’t about joy or patriotism. It wasn’t about a citizenship or achievement. It was about ego and cartoonish, self-promoting showmanship that was truly appalling, a mockery of the solemnity and purpose of the ceremony.

His madness is fatiguing. Each outrageous action, word or deed by Donald Trump that would ordinarily delegate this 45th presidency to the ash heap of history is becoming ho-hum and pedestrian, and I fear we’re becoming complacent.

We must not let our fatigue blunt the sharp edges of decency, decorum and the lessons – both good and bad – of the American experience, especially for those seeking citizenship.

Dylan Thomas told us that we must not go gently, but instead, rage, rage against the dying of the light.

That choice between light or darkness is at hand.

A Tale of Two Citizenship Ceremonies

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