New U.S. citizens, from left, Supinya Phapant of Thailand, Julio Martinez of El Salvador and Mary McCarthy of Canada recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential Center last month in Dallas. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

April 2, 2019

On a subzero day in early March, I was the first to arrive at the immigration building in the Denver suburb of Centennial for the citizenship ceremony. To celebrate the big day for my son-in-law, originally from Germany, I had flown from Chicago. After going through building security, I sat contentedly in a sunny waiting room reading a dissertation chapter on Aristotle by a PhD student of mine, who recently announced that she is in the process of gender transition — the old and the new of America in a nutshell, I thought. People trickled in: individuals, families, my daughter’s boss at the animal rights NGO where she works as an attorney, then my daughter and son-in-law. He was so proud, dressed elegantly in a dark suit. Photos galore.

It’s sometimes hard for academics to shed critical detachment and be heartfelt, but this ceremony didn’t strike a false note. Our emcee, a warm and gracious young woman, honored the countries of origin by asking the people from each to stand — 30 countries! There was a short film showing photos of immigration through the years, followed by the singing of the national anthem, then the oath of citizenship, read out solemnly. I was struck by the emphasis on service as well as privileges. (Quite a few of the families, I later recognized, are current or former members of the military.) Next, a video message from President Trump, totally restrained, scripted and appropriate. Then, one by one, our new citizens came up to get their certificates, accompanied by happy photo-ops, and the emcee’s mangling of name pronunciations (with suitably gracious apology). What could be more American than that?

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