Welcome remarks by the Archivist: Naturalization Ceremony
December 13, 2013, Rotunda, National Archives Building
Good morning. I am David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and welcome to the Rotunda of the National Archives.
Thank you, Judge Roberts, for taking part in this special ceremony.
The National Archives is proud to sponsor this naturalization ceremony with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service of the Department of Homeland Security.
Watching this ceremony brings back memories of my family.
I am the grandson of Italian immigrants and great-grandson of Irish immigrants. Using passenger lists here at the National Archives, I discovered that my grandfather, at age 15, arrived in Boston from Naples aboard the ship Commonwealth on March 22, 1903.
My grandmother, Antonia Giorgio, also from Naples, arrived on March 8, 1909, aboard the Romantic.
Many Americans have stories like mine, and you have your own to share with your family.
You have just taken the oath of citizenship in a much-hallowed setting. This Rotunda is where we keep the nation's founding documents––the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, collectively as the Charters of Freedom.
They are on display for everyone to come and see for themselves the documents that created our nation and established how we govern ourselves…the familiar words they have heard quoted so much and the famous signatures just as they were affixed by their owners.
Our naturalization ceremony is scheduled to coincide with Bill of Rights Day which falls on Sunday this year. Last year, President Barack Obama proclaimed that "On Bill of Rights Day, we celebrate the liberties secured by our forebears, pay tribute to all who have fought to protect and expand our civil rights, and rededicate ourselves to driving a new century of American progress."
The Bill of Rights, which is located on my left, contains the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. These amendments spell out the basic personal rights and freedoms that are guaranteed to every American. As new citizens, the freedom of speech, religion, and the press; the right to petition the government; the right to bear arms; and the right to due process of law and a speedy and fair trial are now your rights too! You will use them every single day.
Now below us we have just opened the David M. Rubenstein Gallery. This new gallery features the "Record of Rights" exhibit. It uses original documents, photographs, facsimiles, videos, and interactive exhibits to explore how Americans have worked to realize the ideals of freedom enshrined in the founding documents here in the Rotunda. This permanent exhibit features a section on immigration. Two documents we highlight are the Deed of Gift for the Statue of Liberty and the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor has welcomed generations of immigrants and is a symbol of freedom. The Statue was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States. This deed of gift marked the statue's presentation on July 4, 1884, in Paris, France.
During the 1850s, Chinese laborers first came to the United States in large numbers to build the transcontinental railroad. By the 1880s, racism and fear of job competition fostered a vocal anti-Chinese movement in the western part of the country. In response, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which stipulated that most Chinese could not enter the United States (there were exceptions for diplomats, merchants, students, and tourists) and that Chinese not born in the United States could not become citizens. Virtually all immigration from China stopped. This act was eventually repealed in 1943.
We display these two documents together to highlight the contrast between the ideals of a diverse society that welcomes and idealizes immigration and the sometimes harsher reality of restrictive laws and discrimination. At the National Archives, we preserve both the good and bad in our history. Today, we are celebrating the good!
Here at the National Archives we have over 12 billion records under our care. Becoming American citizens makes you part of the National Archives too. I'm not sure you are aware of this, but your naturalization records will eventually become part of our holdings. People visit the National Archives every day to search for their own ancestors. In our research rooms across the country, people comb through these records to piece together details of their own family histories. Some day our ancestors will search our records to discover your history.
Now, you have joined us as citizens. It is a distinctive status. Upon leaving the Presidency, Harry Truman remarked that he was getting a promotion–– from public servant to citizen.
So congratulations to all of you on your promotion to citizen of the United States of America.