Welcoming Immigrants: I Wear Your Shoes

Strength Isn’t Something You Have. It’s Something You Find.

Sully Citizenship Ceremony_050917_0037For the past several years, The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Washington field office has held a Children’s Citizenship Ceremony at Sully Historic Site. This year, on May 9, 2017, 17 children of ages five to 13 from 12 countries took an Oath of Allegiance and received certificates of citizenship.

Certified Interpretive Guide Alexandra Fernandez is a Cuban-born American citizen who serves as the Scout Coordinator and Merit Badge Counselor at Sully Historic Site. She spoke at this year’s Citizenship Ceremony, and you might enjoy making her inspirational talk a part of your Independence Day celebration:

Sully Citizenship Ceremony_050917_0073I would like to thank the Sully staff for inviting me to speak here today and share with you a little bit of my story, and I would like you to know that I am really honored to share this day with all of you.

When I was 17 years old, many years ago now, I took part in a citizenship ceremony like you are today. Unfortunately, my ceremony did not take place at a beautiful historical site on a beautiful sunny day. Mine took place in a gloomy, mostly gray courtroom in Buffalo, New York, and if you have ever been to Buffalo you know it can be a gloomy place. But somehow that didn’t take away from the day. I still remember how excited I was to become an American citizen, and I remember thinking, as I sat there holding my little American flag, now no one can tell me I don’t belong.

My journey to becoming an American citizen began in 1975 when my Mom and I arrived on a cold winter’s day at New York’s Kennedy airport. My Dad, who I had not seen since I was one, was there waiting for us. He’d left Cuba on my first birthday and, after crossing no-man’s-land, was granted political asylum at the American Naval Base in Guantanamo. As a result of his defection, my mother and I were not allowed to leave Cuba for six years. But that day in New York, I just remember meeting my Dad for the first time and how cold it was. And then we went to Rochester, which was even colder.

I was happy at first, in spite of the cold. I had a room of my own, a beautiful canopy bed – and waffles! Life couldn’t get better for an eight-year-old. Sure, I couldn’t understand what the cartoons were saying, but hey, at least there were cartoons. But then I had to go to school. You see, in 1975, at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Rochester, there was no ESl program, nor translators, nor teachers who could speak Spanish.

It was very difficult. I went from having lots of friends to not having a single friend. I went from doing well in school to not knowing how to do well in school. Thank goodness for math – the only time in my life I loved math. I’m more of a history person. But that first year, I cried myself to sleep most nights and begged my mother not to send me back. And I’ll be honest, there were times I didn’t think I could do it.

Sully Citizenship Ceremony_050917_0090But you know, strength isn’t something you have. It’s something you find. And it was in the sadness and in the struggle that I found the strength to rely on myself, the strength to keep working hard to understand and be understood, and the strength to not give up.

A great English writer and poet by the name of Rudyard Kipling said in his poem If

  • If you can trust when all men doubt you
  • If you can wait and not be tired by waiting
  • Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

That’s what I did. I trusted in myself when others doubted me, I realized that things wouldn’t change overnight, so I waited. And I chose not to hate, even when people were unkind, even cruel. And you know what? A year later I was able to function, and a year after that I was just another kid in the classroom, which is really important when you are in 4th grade.

As a young person, and now as a mother of three wonderful young people, one of the things I’ve loved most about this country is our right to dream about what we want to be and our right to work to make that dream a reality. I graduated from college in 1990 with a major in International Studies and Anthropology in spite of my parents suggesting that I study something more practical. In 1993, I received a master’s in education, and I went on to teach early American history in Arlington County for the next eight years. And in teaching, I learned.

I learned who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. I learned that this is a land of immigrants. Everyone is either an immigrant or a descendent of immigrants. I learned that this country and its citizen-based government was created in committee through debate and compromise. I learned that our ideals of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all people are a work in progress. And yes, we have stumbled, even fallen at times, and certainly have at times taken one step forward and two steps back. But history is a great teacher, and I also learned that we are strong not in spite of our mistakes, but because of them. I learned that we are at our best when we work together to correct injustice and to make the American ideal of equality accessible to all people. I learned that it is a noble thing and a great American tradition to stand up for the rights of others.

Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president, once said, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in, unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

One day you will inherit this country, as thousands of immigrants have done before you, and I hope you will think about how you will make this country a good place for all of us to live.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 11 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2008. Another Park Bond Referendum will be held in November 2012. Today, the Park Authority has 420 parks on approximately 23,168 acres of land. We offer 371 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park System is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: o Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist. o Eight golf courses including Laurel Hill, our newest, upscale course and clubhouse located in Southern Fairfax County o Five nature and visitor centers. Also seven Off-Leash Dog Activity areas o Several lakes including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax o The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter o Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel o An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter o Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel o Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent o A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly o A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale o Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community o Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center o Provides 274 athletic fields, including 30 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 500 school athletic fields PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: • A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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