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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at the Naturalization Ceremony for New Citizens, U.S. District Court
Washington, D.C., November 10, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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As Delivered

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Your Honor, thank you for that wonderful introduction.. Judge Johnson and colleagues, Director Lewis, Sherryl Horn, Marcia Dresiback, American citizens to be, family members, friends, good morning.

I'm delighted to be here with you to participate in this wonderful ceremony. And I want to thank the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the District Court, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Jewish Women's International Organization for their roles in making this event possible.

As the Judge said, 50 years ago tomorrow, I arrived here in the United States for the first time. With me was my mother, my sister and my brother; and my sister is with me here today. Our native country of Czechoslovakia had been taken over by Communists loyal not to the Czech people, but to Joseph Stalin.

My parents loved liberty, and because of my father's job with the United Nations, we had the opportunity to come here to America. So, like countless others before and since, we steamed into New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, with tears in our eyes and hope in our hearts. And this nation was generous enough to welcome us, make us feel at home and allow me and my family to grow up in freedom. For that, we will forever be grateful.

That, in a nutshell, is my story. But every immigrant and every refugee has a story. With us today is Arlinda Kaba. She grew up in Albania, where her relatives were imprisoned under the old regime for more than a decade. When that government finally fell, Arlinda began working for the Society for a Democratic Culture, which was funded by our own National Democratic Institute. She came to America as a student, and is now an epidemiologist with the Center for Disease Control.

With us also is Mrs. Caridad Sahagun. She was born in Cuba, and came to the United States in 1980. She wants to become an American citizen because she was denied freedom in the repression of Castro's Cuba and because she wants now, for the first time in her life, to vote in a free election. That desire should send a powerful message to every American, and especially to the 63 percent of our registered voters who did not bother to vote one week ago.

Mr. Feleke Kassa is also here. He's a refugee who was forced to flee the old Marxist dictatorship of Ethiopia. Like many immigrants, he is working hard at two jobs, both to support his family here and to help relatives back home. He told us, as we prepared for this event, that only in America could a refugee from Africa get to meet the Secretary of State.

Well, let me say, Mr. Kassa, that only in America could a refugee girl from Central Europe become Secretary of State.

To all of you who will take the oath of citizenship today, I offer my warmest congratulations. Today marks a new beginning in your lives, and an ongoing chapter in the story of America which is, above all else, a story of immigrants.

Studies continue to document the social and financial contributions made to our country by our newest citizens. But the evidence is all around us in the health of our economy, the richness of our culture and the diversity in our neighborhoods.

There are those who resent all this, and think that the day their own family got off the boat or out of the plane is the day the door to America should have swung shut. Let us pray that day never comes. For America must continue to grow and reinvent itself and to draw on new sources of inspiration and strength.

As new citizens, you accept the responsibility to participate in our democracy; and that matters, because whether America will thrive or fade, prosper or fail, lead or fall behind , depends entirely on the courage, creativity and energy of our citizens.

I know you will take pride in your new country , and , as Secretary of State, I hope you will support our efforts to help not only US citizens, but also those in other lands to secure the blessings of freedom and prosperity. For that is a big part of America's role in the world today.

When I arrived in New York that November day 50 years ago, I was excited but also scared. I didn't know whether I would be accepted. I didn't know whether the differences in the way I spoke and acted would leave me in America, but not of America.

I shouldn't have worried. At its best, America's embrace is as broad as the country itself. In the year I arrived in New York, President Harry Truman spoke to a group of immigrants with the same anxieties I had, and perhaps some of you have now. This is what he said:

"We Americans are a diverse people, and part of our respect for the dignity of the human being is respect for his and her right to be different. That means different in background, different in beliefs, different in customs, different in name and different in religion. That is true Americanism; that is true democracy. It is the source of our strength. It is the basis of our faith in the future. And it is the hope of the world."

Those words were true then; they are true now. Because of this ceremony and the 100 new citizens we welcome, America will be stronger. For our country, that is a cause of celebration. For you, it is a cause for great pride.

Congratulations once more, and thank you once more for allowing me and my sister to participate in the ceremony.

(Applause.)

[End of Document]

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