On Tuesday, President Obama spoke at a naturalization ceremony in Washington, D.C., welcoming men and women from more than 25 countries as new citizens to this country.
He talked about how immigration is our nation's origin story …
"Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants. But there’s something unique about America. We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals -- we are born of immigrants. That is who we are. Immigration is our origin story. And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition. It’s who we are. It’s part of what makes us exceptional. After all, unless your family is Native American, one of the first Americans, our families -- all of our families -- come from someplace else."
… and reminded us that though we haven't always lived up to these ideals …
"From the start, Africans were brought here in chains against their will, and then toiled under the whip. They also built America. A century ago, New York City shops displayed those signs, 'No Irish Need Apply.' Catholics were targeted, their loyalty questioned -- so much so that as recently as the 1950s and ‘60s, when JFK had to run, he had to convince people that his allegiance wasn’t primarily to the Pope.
"Chinese immigrants faced persecution and vicious stereotypes, and were, for a time, even banned from entering America. During World War II, German and Italian residents were detained, and in one of the darkest chapters in our history, Japanese immigrants and even Japanese American citizens were forced from their homes and imprisoned in camps. We succumbed to fear. We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values. We betrayed these documents. It’s happened before.
"And the biggest irony of course was -- is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants. How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from. And we suggest that somehow there is 'us' and there is 'them,' not remembering we used to be 'them' ."
… we must, as citizens, do the continual work of living up to our values as Americans and standing up for the rights of others.
"On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again. We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all of its forms -- whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farmworker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper. We are Americans. Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do -- especially when it’s hard. Especially when it’s not convenient. That’s when it counts. That’s when it matters -- not when things are easy, but when things are hard."
Check out the full speech:
Melanie Garunay is the Associate Director of Digital Outbound for the Office of Digital Strategy.