An Exploration of American Citizenship

Photo by Elias Castillo

This past week I had the privilege of witnessing a naturalization ceremony of an Iraqi woman. There wasn’t an overabundance of pomp at the proceedings, save for the National Anthem beautifully sung by a high school student. The movements and speeches were scripted, an American flag was hastily brought in by staff, and it all took place fairly quickly. Yet, it was one of those times where you could palpably feel the significance of the actions taking place in front of you. This woman, who had cleared many hurdles and overcome numerous barriers to arrive at this ceremony, was finally gaining her formal entrance into the citizenry of the United States of America. The weight of what was taking place hung heavy over the room.

This was an impactful moment in time, I assume, for not only the woman gaining her U.S. citizenship, but also her family and even me – the starry-eyed idealist sitting at the back of the room. I imagine many in the room were well aware of the political and societal backdrop of this singular naturalization ceremony.

Citizenship – who gets it, how they get it, what the process looks like, etc. – has been at the center of national conversations about the U.S. immigration system. At its best, the discussions broach reasonable topics such as the capacity of U.S. cities and states to accept new populations of immigrants and refugees and what courses of action locales may need to take to ensure adequate supports are in place. At its worst, the discussions degrade into racist and xenophobic comments of walls, religion tests, and s***hole countries.

All of this ran through my mind as the woman on the stage took an oath of allegiance to the United States. She is entering a nation that is becoming more and more hostile to individuals like her who are seeking freedom and prosperity in a nation that often does not do those words justice. I silently hoped that she would be spared the judgment, discrimination, and indecency that so many immigrants and refugees experience in our nation.

I am not naïve enough to proclaim that there was a “heyday” for immigrants in America. My own great-great grandmother was disowned by her Protestant, English family when she married a poor, Catholic Irish immigrant in the late 1800s. The races, ethnicities, and religions may change, but prejudice stays the same. My hope is that a day will come when the national dialogue will change from “immigrants and refugees are a detriment to the U.S.” to “immigrants and refugees are a benefit to the U.S.” As a nation built by immigrants dreaming of a better life in the “land of the free,” I entreat us to strive to create a place that is worthy of the dreams of these individuals hoping for a better life.

Hello! My name is Kara Hoffman and I am a graduate intern at Three Rivers Community Foundation. I am currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Social Work with a Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA) concentration. I have a passion for serving victims of discrimination, oppression, and injustice in any form. I am also a Pittsburgh native and a proud lover of bridges, pierogi, and Steelers football. I enjoy engaging with the progressive social change community!

Contact me: khoffman@threeriverscommunity.org