Coming to America with a Voice and a Vote
October 9, 2014 by Maryclaire Manard
It’s the perfect October morning in New York City. It’s the kind of morning that’s ideal for taking a trip down to Battery Park, sitting on a worn-wooden bench next to the ferry docks, and looking out across the water at the Statue of Liberty. The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and there she stands in the distance in all her glory.
A powerful icon of freedom and democracy, and to so many people over the centuries who immigrated to this country, she has represented the end of a journey and the beginning of an adventure of opportunity.
On that same October morning, and just a short walk away sits the U.S. District Courthouse in lower Manhattan where a group of people are about to embark upon a slightly different type of adventure, becoming an American citizen.
160 individuals from 52 different countries stand and raise their right hands, as a chorus of dialects and accents from around the world repeat word for word the oath of citizenship.
“…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;…”
Following the oath, the Honorable Colleen McMahon congratulates the crowd as cheers and applause erupts.
Looking around the room, there are joyful expressions, some tears being shed, and plenty of pats on the back. For these new citizens, their journey to this point has been long and probably not easy, but now they are Americans, and no one can tell them otherwise.
Judge McMahon proceeds with her remarks, noting that the same oath that was just administered is not performed in hospital rooms around the country to those lucky enough to be citizens upon birth.
“but you studied and learned and swore an oath and know exactly what it means to be a citizen.”
Turning to the line of the oath that states, “I will support and defend the Constitution,” Judge McMahon tells the crowd exactly what they can do to fulfill that duty: vote.
“It is your right to have your voice heard on matters large and small,” she says. “Nothing is more important than to stand up and be counted on the issues of the day.”
As the ceremony comes to an end, and the new citizens take their certificates of naturalization, the majority of the group remains behind to fill out voter registration forms. The hallway becomes crowded with smiling faces from all walks of life, eager to be able to exercise their right to vote.
The very last naturalized citizen to leave the courthouse that day is Qazim Doda. Qazim owns a media company that reports the news in both English and Albanian for viewers in the U.S. as well as in Europe.
For Qazim, voting is one of the most important ways he feels he can contribute as a citizen.
“First thing I did before I left this building was to register to vote.” He begins, “Because as a new citizen, I want to be helpful in this country, not just by paying taxes, but I want to use my power now to help to improve this country.”
“Now, we have that power, we have that chance and we will try to be good citizens, loyal citizens, and to feel proud of what we are now: Americans.”
On a perfect October morning in New York City, I took a trip down to a U.S. District courthouse. I watched 160 people become proud citizens of one nation as parents, grandparents, sons and daughters all swore an oath to my country. Afterwards, I decided to take a walk to Battery Park and sat down on a worn-wooden bench next to the ferry docks. As I looked out across the water towards the Statue of Liberty, I realized:
For Qazim Doda and many others that day, making sure they had a voice and a vote was the first thing they chose to do as Americans.