Almost 200 immigrants were sworn in as United States citizens last Wednesday (July 18) during a naturalization ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Dorchester. Judge Mary Page Kelley, the federal judge for the United States District Court in the District of Massachusetts, president over the ceremony, which also featured remarks from Vartan Gregorian, a first-generation American who is currently president of the Carnegie Corporation in New York. The pledge of allegiance, led by Jacob Amparo and Dalkis Rodriguez, children of Sujedy Amparo, who was naturalized at the ceremony, and a pre-recorded video of President Donald J. Trump congratulating the immigrants marked the end of official celebrations.
Standing before windows overlooking Dorchester Bay, the same waters through which John F. Kennedy’s great-grandparents traveled seeking citizenship, in a building designed by famed Chinese-American, I. M. Pei, the judge addressed the 172 new citizens.
“As children you learned different languages; you ate different foods; you had different cultures; you may have practiced different religions. But now you are all citizens of the United States,” Kelley said to applause after listing the over-50 countries from which these immigrants hailed.
“Our country is not perfect,” Kelley continued. “We have many problems here, and we need your help to solve them. Our greatest strength is our diversity, but showing tolerance and respect for everyone is also our greatest challenge,” the judge said before semi-jokingly “ordering” the new citizens to register to vote. “We need you.”
Gregorian expanded upon her sentiments, calling for the audience to “challenge [Americans] and help us to do better.”
After immigrating to California in 1956, Gregorian taught at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the twenty-third provost. He was president of the New York Public Library and president emeritus at Brown University before entering his current position as president of the Carnegie Corporation. In 1986, he was awarded the Ellis Island medal of honor and, in 2004, the Medal of Freedom. Gregorian himself was naturalized nearly 40 years ago, at a ceremony in Philadelphia, an emotional moment he likened to a second marriage.
“You will soon be a part of something bigger than yourself, the United States of America,” he told the crowd before quoting the address he gave at his own naturalization ceremony. “We know America is not perfect, but we see it as perfectible.”
For many, the experience was a validation of years of hard work.
“This ceremony marks everything,” said Angelie Barce, who was naturalized Wednesday, after eight years of trying. “[Citizenship] has been a long dream for me and my family. It’s a good experience, to be a part of the United States.”
Simone Machado, originally from Brazil, searched for words to describe how she was feeling after the ceremony. “Good,” she settled on, her eyes damp. She was surrounded by her family, who together had been trying for naturalization for several years now; said her daughter, “We’re so proud.”