Mayor Durkan to 62 newly sworn-in citizens: “Hello, my fellow Americans. Thank you for continuing the American story.”

 

On Friday, April 13, Mayor Durkan gave the keynote address at a naturalization ceremony at Seattle Central Public Library. Immediately prior to her keynote address, 62 people from 22 countries took the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance and became Americans. Mayor Durkan’s remarks as delivered:

Good afternoon, my fellow Americans!

[Applause]

You have worked so hard to have those words spoken to you, so I just want to say it again

Hello, my fellow Americans!

[Applause]

It is such an honor to be here today and to be with you at this ceremony and at this building.

Libraries are a special place in America. They represent some of the best of what America is: Our willingness to have free speech and free thought and free ideas. A quiet place for people to go to look for whatever they want. So it’s fitting to have this here today.

I know that you have been on many individual journeys that bring you to this room today. And what an amazing thing: 22 countries, to see you stand, to see you take that oath.

You are the face of America. Turn and look around at the people in this room: You are the face of America.

While we can never forget that Seattle is named for a great chief and that we stand on Duwamish lands, I think it’s also important at this point in the history of America to remember that so many of us came from so many countries from all over the world. All over the world.

And we became in many ways that country of immigrants.

And we have to remain that America – that America that opens its door, opens its arms, and says welcome to everyone.

Regardless of what country they are from.

Regardless of what faith they practice.

Regardless of their economic status.

Everyone must be welcome here in America.

Because that is the best of America.

[Applause]

And I will tell you, you now carry that same responsibility. When people say America does X or should America do Y, you are Americans who will help decide that. You have to use your voice. You have to use your vote. You have to keep doing everything you are doing in your communities. But with citizenship comes additional responsibilities. That responsibility, you carry it with you every day:

What it means to be American.

What it means to be the best of America.

Because that is what you are.

When he spoke at a ceremony like this one, President Kennedy talked about how you are no different than any American who was born here. You are a full member of America. The only thing you can’t be is President of the United States. Maybe that will change one day. But your children can be. And I am sure one day we will wake up in America, and one day your children or one of your friend’s children will be the President of the United States, and carry us further into the dream that is America.

Immigrants have always given so much to this country. And I will tell you as Mayor of Seattle, it is one of the richest parts of who we are. Every day, immigrants and refugees give so much to the City of Seattle. They give so much. That’s why I have pledged as Mayor that I will do what I can to protect them. To make them welcome. To make sure their children know they have a place and can be anything they want in this City. When I’m looking out at you, I’m wondering: Which one of you is going to be mayor? It could be any of you. And I’m sure that kid is going to be president someday! It’s awesome.

I know that many of you have stories of heartbreak and hardship that bring you here. You’re separated from families. You’ve lost family members. You don’t when you can get back to your last home. But this new home is yours.

Here in America and in Washington State and Seattle, we need you. We need you every day to do what you do best. In our community, there are immigrants and refugees who are teaching our children. Healthcare workers who are caring for our sick. Inspiring people who work every day thinking, “How can I make my community better?” And you set down a road that many said was too hard, or that you could not achieve, and now you’ve become a citizen of the United States of America. I congratulate you, and I applaud you.

But then I challenge you a little bit.  This is not the finish line; it’s the starting line. Because being a citizen today in America is a really important thing. Because today, we are at this crossroads in our country, where what we do every day is going to define what we kind of country we become. We will continue to be a country of hope that opens its doors and lives up to hopes and aspirations, or will we close that door, tell people they aren’t welcome, and build walls?

You get now to vote. You now speak out as Americans. You stand up as Americans. So I challenge you to keep doing it. Speak out. Exercise those First Amendment rights. Stand up, and vote. Vote and get everyone you know to vote. Because it matters who are elected leaders are.  I will tell you, and you will see, that sometimes the business of America can be a little messy. We fight. We challenge each other.

There will be times when there seems to be political turmoil, and we wonder, “Where are we as a country?” Don’t let that get you down. Just let it be a challenge. Because it only makes us stronger and better.

Just as I was driving over here today, I learned that the Department of Justice has said that they will challenge me in my efforts to keep our immigrants safe and to make sure that when our immigration authorities search process, they have the right to do that. I will continue to stand strong. I served as a federal law enforcement officer. I know how important it is to keep our people safe. But I also know that the best of America keeps people safe and does not let any police authority go after anyone because of who they are who they are from or have enforcement that is inappropriate.

So welcome to being an American citizen. I know you have all been working so hard to get so hard.

I know the stories you bring with you. But know now we’ve got a shared story.

I’ll leave you with this: My grandfather left Ireland at the age 16. And everyone thinks of Ireland as this charmed place where leprechauns are, but I can tell you a few things. Number one, anyone who knows Irish people knows that that no Irish boy would leave his mother unless he had to. But he did. He left because his country was war-torn. It was experiencing famine. A million people died or immigrated. It was a horrible time. At the age of 16, he left his family and what he knew behind. He eventually ended up here in America; immigrated to New York, and went out to Montana, where he and other immigrants worked in a smelter mine.  He kept working and working. He ran for the State House of Representatives – and actually won. He had sons and daughters who went on to serve in the military and do so much. And eventually he had a granddaughter who serves as the mayor of Seattle, Washington and who worked for Barack Obama.

That’s the American dream.

That’s the American way.

We haven’t always lived up to it. We know what we did to our Japanese citizens and Chinese citizens right here in Seattle.

So part of being an American is standing up for what’s right – to make sure that the words are not just words on a page, but they are etched in our hearts and become part of who we are.

Thank you for continuing the American story.

Thank you for what you are doing today.

But more importantly: Thank you so much for what you’re going to do tomorrow and next year and beyond.

Thank you, my fellow Americans.