A speech about becoming a US citizen that I wish I had given

Frank

Frank

Frank Rapp, a respected trial lawyer from Pennsylvania, has become my dear friend as a result of this blog. In a recent e-mail, he wrote: “I wanted to pass this on to you because your occasional pieces on naturalization ceremonies have always caused me to reflect and be thankful (not nearly enough I am afraid ) for my ridiculous and unmerited good fortune in being a citizen of this country.” Frank attached an article from the local newspaper reprinting a speech that a young lawyer gave at a naturalization proceeding. Frank said,  “I have attached this speech because it was given by a friend of mine who is a brilliant young lawyer and all around great guy.”

The young trial lawyer’s name is Christopher Amar. Chris received his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was the executive editor of the Virginia Tax Review. He received his M.A. in American History from the University of Virginia and his B.A. cum laude from Harvard University. He now handles complex civil cases.

Chris

Chris

Chris’ speech at the naturalization ceremony was both beautiful and heart warming. I asked Chris for permission to reprint it, and he obliged.

Here is Chris’ speech, a speech that I wish I had made:

Remarks for Naturalization Ceremony,Western District of Pennsylvania Federal Courthouse, February 20, 2015

Good morning. My name is Christopher Amar, and I am deeply honored to be here. I am a father, a husband, and a lawyer, but today I stand before you as the child of immigrants. My mother was born in China and came to this country in 1963 from Hong Kong. My father came from northern India in 1969.

My parents grew up in countries that share a twenty-five hundred mile border, but they had to travel over twenty thousand miles altogether in order to meet in 1970 in Los Angeles and get married in 1976. I, the first of their three children, was born three years later. In no other country is my existence, or the existence of my brother Jonathan and sister Priya, even possible. And because of that knowledge, that I owe my being to the very existence of the United States, my status as a child of immigrants has defined me as an American more than any other aspect of my background.

My parents’ lives took very different paths in America. My mother arrived as a teenager by boat with her father and siblings and very little else. Her father, my grandfather, did not believe that he could provide a decent life for his children in Hong Kong. My mother lived on her own from the time she was eighteen and worked her way through junior college and then four-year college, working as a housekeeper and at other odd jobs to pay for her education. She is the first woman in her family to ever attend (much less graduate from) college, and has been a practicing nurse for forty years. She became an American citizen on December 21, 1973.

My father, by contrast, was already a college graduate when he arrived on September 10, 1969 by plane, thanks to the I-20 student visa program. He chose to move here because the United States had all of the opportunities that India lacked in the 1960s. He came to the United States to study engineering and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1977. He has been in professional jobs his entire life and has become a leader in the field of environmental science. Next week he will fly to South Africa as an expert for the United Nations to participate in a conference on international environmental treaties regulating mercury. He was naturalized in 1982.

My parents’ stories are quintessentially American, but in very different ways. My mother almost never cries, but when she recounted her path once she arrived here – even though it is ultimately a story of triumph – she wept continuously, perhaps because she was remembering the many pains of her early struggles in this country, perhaps partly out of a sense of relief.

My father’s path, on the other hand, represents the familiar pattern of economic and educational advancement, but even though his path was perhaps more conventional, his story is equally triumphant.

Yet despite their differences, both of my parents’ stories are worthy of the telling, just as each of your stories is. To uproot your life elsewhere, to move to another country, and to make a new life takes courage, faith and determination. I honestly am not sure I could do what each of you has done.

I started this speech by saying that I am honored to be here, and it is because I am honored to be in your company. What you have already accomplished by getting to this place is remarkable. The distances you have traveled, the obstacles you have overcome, and the efforts you have made to put down roots here should and I hope will always be sources of pride and of satisfaction to you and your families.

Together my parents taught me to be a diligent student; to not just love my family but to take care of my family; to work hard; to be grateful for what I have been given; and to look out for others, especially those who are less fortunate than myself. These are lessons that parents teach their children across the globe. But my parents also emphasized the importance of participating in our society, because of the rare opportunities that American democracy provides to its citizens.

Each of you, as an American citizen, has it in your power to become instrumental to the life of this city, or wherever you ultimately end up. I urge each of you to participate in the public life of this country, whether through the simple but essential act of voting; through your participation on a jury when summoned; by running for public office or campaigning for the candidates that you support; and by speaking your mind on all topics that are important to you, whether it is what the political priorities of this city or our country should be, or how to improve the public schools in your area, or even just how the Steelers can improve on defense.

Together, you, me, all of us constitute the government of this country. It is not some power outside of ourselves, but rather the power of our government is us, the people here in this room. I hope that you not only remember that, but that you take the responsibility that comes with that power seriously.

Some of you may not have heard of him, but a journalist for the New York Times, David Carr, died last week. He joined the Times late in life, after he had enjoyed and endured many experiences elsewhere. When he described how he felt about working at the Times, he said, “I have an immigrant’s love of the place and its daily miracle.” What a fitting way to describe how I hope each of you feels today – love of this place, and wonder at the daily miracle of being a citizen of the United States, a robust and enduring democracy, rooted both in individual liberty and equal opportunity. I heartily congratulate each and every one of you for today becoming citizens of this most blessed country.

RGK

PS There is a subtext. An older lawyer from one firm sought recognition of the good works of a younger lawyer from another firm. That is an example of professionalism, and simple decency, that is too often lost in our increasingly cut-throat profession. Thank you Frank!

4 responses

  1. Christopher Amar’s story stirred very strong feelings of regret in me. These feelings burn because I never knew the trials and tribulations my father’s parents and my mothers’ parents endured, so that my parents could be born here.

    That the United States is the great nation that it is, could only have come to be through the sacrifices made by those to whom our Statue of Liberty has long extended this compelling invitation:

    “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    How many of our ancestors must have come through “the golden door!”

  2. This is a very moving speech, thank you RGK for bringing it to our attention. And while Mr. Amar’s parents (and my great grandfather) came through that golden door, it is tremendously sad that so many Americans despise the immigrants of today, simply because their skin color is different or they speak with an accent. Immigration is what has always kept our country vital and growing; the “dreamers” should be welcomed, not shunned.

  3. This speech needs to be read and pondered by those of us who were born here and do not have the foggiest idea of what it really means to be an American. As the speaker stated: “Together, you, me, all of us constitute the government of this country. It is not some power outside of ourselves, but rather the power of our government is us . . . .” Too many have forgotten the “we the people” concept. Perhaps we have allowed those in power to intentionally create “citizens” who have no understanding and appreciation of their own power, of their own freedom?

  4. Judge:
    These stirring words could have just as easily applied to my father, an Italian immigrant, who came to America on a ship in 1955. Like so many others he came with no money, friends or family (save for my Mother who was waiting for him here). None of us can really know the hardships others have faced as a result of having emigrated to the United States. But what matters is that these people were committed to coming to America and, perhaps more importantly, contributing to its greatness. Make no mistake about it: we stand on the shoulders of giants.
    Robert

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