Celebrating July 4th JCHE style!
The 4th of July. Can most of us honestly say we think about it as anything other than a barbeque, fireworks and/or long weekend travel opportunity? I couldn’t—until I attended JCHE’s Independence Day Celebration. As part of our tradition, every year for at this time we recognize and congratulate those residents who have become U.S. citizens since the last fourth of July.
Unlike those of us who “won the lottery” by being born here, those seeking U.S. citizenship face an arduous process. If they are non-English speakers, they need to learn the language. They must also know facts about our government and history. And this takes place after they have experienced the initial hard road (or ship or plane) of leaving everything behind and starting over in a foreign land.
If you walk by our sunroom while our citizenship classes are underway, you can feel how much effort the students are putting out. Our residents, who are typically in their late 70s or 80s while they undertake this process, could choose an easier route and live their lives peacefully at JCHE without taking on this challenge—as legal immigrants, they don’t “need” to become citizens. But in the Genesis auditorium during the Independence Celebration, I had a profound appreciation for the significance of this endeavor. I saw the smiles on the faces of the six new U.S. citizens when I called out their names. There were also smiles on the faces of the 150 residents who attended the ceremony. So many of them had been similarly honored in previous years and they wanted to be present to support their peers (and enjoy the celebratory concert and cupcakes!)
While the new citizens thanked me for the recognition they were receiving, I thanked them for reminding me, by virtue of their path, how lucky I am to have been born into the privilege of living in a free society. That clearly struck a chord for many in attendance. The subsequent head bobbing throughout the auditorium was so ferocious, I was concerned that someone would be injured!
I grew up in the 1960s. We learned to protest, question authority and be cynical about the role of the U.S. on the world stage. My decision to pursue social justice as the purpose of my career path reflects the events and worldview of those years. There were many issues that sparked citizen activism – the Vietnam War, the abuses of office of Richard Nixon and the civil rights movement – and our ability to respond was all possible because we do live in a truly free society.
Our founding fathers and mothers were brilliant.That they could foresee the need for a Constitution with a Bill of Rights and the clear separation of powers may seem mundane today, but at the time of their creation they truly were creating a bold new concept for democracy. Sure, with 20-20 hindsight we can see flaws but the basic structure they shepherded remains relevant and effective today. So significant in fact that each year JCHE residents study assiduously to learn a new language and understand the fundamentals of a society that they are eager to join at a time in life when others think about pulling back.
As always, I welcome your comments.