Twenty people. Nineteen different countries of origin. Anywhere from four to 52 years of time spent living in this country. Working here. Contributing.
The flag of the United States of America. The flag of the Department of Homeland Security. Girl Scouts. Public officials, including former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.
The story of a man whose family escaped the wars in Nicaragua when he was just a first grader. A vivid description that captivated each person in the audience, including the very youngest.
The Pledge of Allegiance. The National Anthem. Trusting, innocent voices singing, “This land is my land, this land is your land….” Knowing it.
Smiles that wouldn’t stop. A baby that wouldn’t stop crying. A videotaped message from the President of the United States.
Hugs. Tears. Handshakes of congratulations. A sunsplashed patio. Fairytale Brownies and lemonade. Goodbyes. Good wishes.
Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley hosted a naturalization ceremony Friday. Because several of our staff members have children who attended the school, its principal, Piya Jacob, invited us to attend. Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, staff photographer Daniel Friedman and I were honored to witness this sacred rite of passage that is something akin to a baptism, a wedding and a graduation all rolled into one.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services typically conducts these ceremonies within the confines of a courtroom. Just recently, the decision was made to offer some of the ceremonies within different venues in the community. Desert View was chosen because one of its parents is an immigration officer.
The students played an active role in the event. Their artwork adorned the programs. They made paper flags of each citizenship candidate’s country of origin. The candidates proudly carried their flags as they were escorted by the third grade class into the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix. (The school rents space from the church.) A Girl Scout troop presented the colors.
The entire student body was seated on the floor at the front of the sanctuary so that each student had a clear view of the ceremony. Many wore red, white and blue. The group sat quietly, respectfully, jumping up only when it was time to sing one of several songs they performed.
Piya, herself a native of India who became a naturalized citizen a number of years ago, was expecting “a wonderful civics lesson for all, and a most heartwarming ceremony.” The actual event surpassed all expectations.