Low clouds hung across the top of the Golden Gate Bridge last Friday morning as a crowd gathered at an outdoor amphitheatre overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Volunteers from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy helped some visitors mark the distance between San Francisco and their country of origin with colorful yarn on a board that read “Immigration is beautiful.” Others from the San Francisco Public Library handed out reading lists and were available to sign people up for library cards.
By mid-morning, a group of nearly three dozen children who had been born in 17 different countries took their seats in folding chairs; their families looked on from nearby amphitheatre benches, cameras and cell phones ready to commemorate the morning.
Everyone who had come was there to see these children receive certificates showing they were new U.S. citizens and, as such, new stewards and patrons of U.S. national parks and public libraries.
This swearing-in was particularly special: hosted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services’ (USCIS) San Francisco District and Field Offices, it was held in collaboration with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Parks Conservancy, The Presidio Trust, and the San Francisco Public Library. (In short: not every certificate ceremony gets a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and a speech by a best-selling author.)
Even the Statue of Liberty, one of the most iconic symbols of immigration to the United States (and a national monument herself), is an immigrant from France, writer Dave Eggers reminded the assembled crowd. Eggers recently wrote about the monument in Her Right Foot with illustrator Shawn Harris (also in attendance). The nonfiction picture book tells the history of the Statue of Liberty and considers what she represents: a figure moving to welcome new immigrants to the United States (hence the lifted right foot). The children received copies of the book, which Eggers and Harris signed after the ceremony.
“No one dreams the American dream harder and better than immigrants,” Eggers said to the crowd. “And no one is more essential to the functioning of our country and its vitality than immigrants.”
The morning’s events were also meaningful for the community partners who participated. “With what’s going on in our country, I want to give something back to these immigrants that’s positive because we all come from an immigration background,” said Margery Eriksson, the managing director of singing group TOSCA, which performed during the event.
For Greg Moore, CEO of the Parks Conservancy, it was important to drive home how inclusive the national parks’ mission is. “The national parks belong to all Americans,” he said. “So it’s a particular honor to introduce them to our newest Americans and help them understand that this country belongs to them and encourage them to explore its national treasures and its history.”
“The National Parks belong to all Americans. So it’s a particular honor to introduce them to our newest Americans and help them understand that this country belongs to them and encourage them to explore its national treasures and its history.”
Before administering the oath of citizenship, Mark Farfaglia of USCIS San Francisco read off all 17 countries from which the new citizens originated, inviting them to come to the front when their soon-to-be-previous country of citizenship was named. Children as young as four years old rose from Malaysia and Italy, Yemen and Nepal, Guatemala and the Philippines, Spain and Thailand, Iran and India, plus seven more countries before taking the oath of citizenship together.
The new citizens kept their thoughts on the day succinct. “It’s fun,” said Aayushna Acharya, 12, who lives in Berkeley. He already had a library card, so he didn’t sign up for one at one of the SFPL’s tables.
Ten-year-old Zoe Cantwell, who was adopted from Ethiopia, “liked meeting new people,” although she described the event itself as “boring.” Lucky for her and her fellow new stewards of America’s national parks, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Arches, and the remaining 414 national park areas are anything but.
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Sara Button Sara Button is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience.