I had the honor and privilege of attending a swearing-in ceremony for 1303 new citizens of the United States of America yesterday.
I sat in the balcony of Oakland's Paramount Theatre, an Art Deco icon. The Art Deco Style is defined by eclecticism, a perfect metaphor for a melting pot. Families and friends of the imminent citizens from 105 countries surrounded me along with gilded curtains and walls, sweeping images of man and nature.
We watched a video about Ellis Island. I saw the face of my great great grandfather on the screen. Or someone who looked just like him. Like most American citizens, I descended from immigrants.
We sang the National Anthem together with tears streaming down our faces. We put hands on our hearts and pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
We heard a man from US Citizenship & Immigration Services speak seven languages with ease. I marveled at his facility, but the young woman seated next to me said, "I think this should all be in English. They're becoming American citizens, after all."
I thought about my great great grandfather and wondered what resistance he encountered in New York and Missouri. And my great great grandmother, and my great grandpa. When those people who got here first looked at my family, did they see human beings?
Many years ago, I took in a stray kitten. Tiny, filthy, and on the verge of becoming ferrel, she had been taunted and battered by the young boys living in the apartment below mine. After weeks of coaxing, she finally allowed me to lift her into my arms. Shuddering with fear, she clung to me as we ascended to my apartment. She lived with me for 16 years. Lulu.
In Lulu's 13th year, a wet, ragged, and desperate kitten found its way to the crawl space under my house. Of course I took her in, if only for a few days to find her a new home. To my surprise, Lulu didn't just resent the new kitty, she actively stalked her and attacked her at every opportunity. "You don't belong here!" she seemed to be saying. "Go back where you came from! This is my house."
I guess Lulu forgot her own history.