The New Mexico History Museum proudly hosted a naturalization service this morning for 50 people from 15 countries who packed the 200-seat auditorium with even prouder family and friends. We’ve wanted to hold such an event here since opening in 2009 and we got to the finish line on two important occasions: Flag Day in the Centennial of the year New Mexico became a state.
“New Mexico became a state only after a long struggle,” said Frances Levine, the museum’s director, who acknowledged before beginning her remarks that “You are making me cry.”
“American statesmen were not sure that our citizens could find a place in the nation. After all, many people then living in New Mexico did not speak English, and others did not hold religious beliefs that were common in other parts of the United States. When we did become part of these United States, we brought a different perspective on American History. No longer were the pilgrims our only forefathers, so too were explorers who came from the south, bringing Spanish traditions to this far northern frontier. We added many Native American peoples and their rich traditions to the American nation. Today, this ceremony is yet another way in which we celebrate the rich blending of cultures that happens when people of many nations join together to form a more perfect union.”
Those being sworn in under the authority of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service were young and not-so-young and represented the nations of Egypt, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
“America means freedom,” Chief U.S. District Judge Bruce L. Black told them. “The freedom to pursue your dreams. … We are all immigrants, with a few exceptions of Native Americans. Our country is constantly enriched by new immigrants.”
Among those being sworn in were two men who have already protected our nation as members of the U.S. military. Carlos Jose Vergara Alegre, from the Philippines, served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps from October 2002 until October 2006. And Mario Alberto Vazquez Andrade, from Mexico, served honorably in the U.S. Army from September 2006 until June 2010.
In honor of Flag Day, the new citizens were given miniature flags as they signed in. But as a special treat in honor of the Centennial, the History Museum gave them a second miniature flag with just 47 stars–a remembrance of taking the oath on the anniversary of New Mexico becoming the 47th state.
“Our flag tells our nation’s story. It is a story of struggle and perseverance, of idealism and opportunity,” said Veronica Gonzales, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. “Those are themes that we Americans embrace. And those are themes that many of you share, as indicated by the hard work and dedicated that have led you here today.”
We all celebrated afterward with lemonade and cookies in the lobby (thank you, Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico), while the nation’s newest citizens got a head start on their voter registration, Social Security sign-ups, and new passports. Having the building filled with so many happy people, their parents, their children, their sisters and brothers, lifted our spirits into the stratosphere.
If all goes well, the History Museum will become an annual host of Citizenship Day. We wish all of the participants the best as they enter this new phase of their lives.