July 4th, Life Changing Date

A citizenship ceremony at Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. citizenship, ceremony, asian, mount rushmore, south dakota, american, united states of america, american flag, stars and stripes, red white and blue, presidents, proud

Each year we Americans celebrate the birthday of our nation on July 4th. For most folks it means hot dogs, watermelon, picnics, camping and fireworks.

In 1986 it was the 100th birthday of Lady Liberty–the statue given to all Americans by the French in 1886. Celebrations abounded, especially in New York harbor where tall sailing ships from around the world gathered to share the revelry. NEWSWEEK assigned me to cover a special citizenship ceremony for new Americans at Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. I made a great shot which ran more than half a page in the magazine, but the big story was of a personal nature.

As a Vietnam War vet, I didn’t have a high opinion of the Vietnamese who stole from American forces, fled their country while we foreigners defended it, and generally resented our presence in their country. Many came to the USA and took advantage of our welfare system. In short, my view was bigoted and short sighted.

After the dramatic swearing in at the foot of Mt. Rushmore under the gaze of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt I made a picture of a Vietnamese woman proudly displaying her citizenship certificate. I automatically thanked her in Vietnamese. That simple unconscious act ultimately led to an invitation to dinner at the family home in Rapid City.

What I saw was a family of three or four generations who came to the USA for freedom. They worked hard–most at a local electronics factory. These people were here for all the right reasons and were contributing members of society. My bigoted view quickly faded.

I subsequently sent some images to the family–whose name I have shamefully forgotten. But that isn’t the end of the story.

A year later in mid July 1987, my mailbox was stuffed with a crinkled soft package wrapped in a brown paper bag. Inside was a T-shirt from Mt. Rushmore and a simple note: “We go to Mt. Rushmore on July 4 to show sponsor where we become American citizen. We think of you our first American friend.”

Sadly, the shirt–which was always too small–has disappeared, but the fond memory is rekindled every Fourth of July when I think of those nice people who taught me a lesson about what it means to be an American.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Grumpy ole guy
    Jul 4, 2013, 1:15 pm

    Dave knows that I am shy about expressing views of National political topics in public; but, I thank him for this sweet and touching story which encapsulates so many stories of so many immigrants stories of this country, including all of the ones from my own family.

  2. Is it not troubling and disturbing how little respect, if not outright disrespect, that our elected leaders in DC have for this document and the concepts which it stands for: Can you hear me now? NSA, IRS, Media Wiretaps, Obama Care, Open Borders, Corporate Tax Loopholes, Corporate/Bank Bailouts, Foreign Aid, Campaign Contributions, Welfare to non-citizens and able-bodied citizens, and dozens more examples of we the people being plundered while we watch the Zimmerman trial with fascination.

    Our Declaration of Independence: A Transcription


    IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

    The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

    He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
    He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
    He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
    He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
    He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
    He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
    He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
    He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
    He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
    He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
    He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
    He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
    He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
    For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
    For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
    For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
    For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
    For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
    For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
    For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
    For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
    For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
    He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
    He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
    He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
    He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
    He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

    In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

    Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

    We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


    The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

    Button Gwinnett
    Lyman Hall
    George Walton
    North Carolina:
    William Hooper
    Joseph Hewes
    John Penn
    South Carolina:
    Edward Rutledge
    Thomas Heyward, Jr.
    Thomas Lynch, Jr.
    Arthur Middleton
    John Hancock
    Samuel Chase
    William Paca
    Thomas Stone
    Charles Carroll of Carrollton
    George Wythe
    Richard Henry Lee
    Thomas Jefferson
    Benjamin Harrison
    Thomas Nelson, Jr.
    Francis Lightfoot Lee
    Carter Braxton
    Robert Morris
    Benjamin Rush
    Benjamin Franklin
    John Morton
    George Clymer
    James Smith
    George Taylor
    James Wilson
    George Ross
    Caesar Rodney
    George Read
    Thomas McKean
    New York:
    William Floyd
    Philip Livingston
    Francis Lewis
    Lewis Morris
    New Jersey:
    Richard Stockton
    John Witherspoon
    Francis Hopkinson
    John Hart
    Abraham Clark
    New Hampshire:
    Josiah Bartlett
    William Whipple
    Samuel Adams
    John Adams
    Robert Treat Paine
    Elbridge Gerry
    Rhode Island:
    Stephen Hopkins
    William Ellery
    Roger Sherman
    Samuel Huntington
    William Williams
    Oliver Wolcott
    New Hampshire:
    Matthew Thornton

  3. That’s a really lovely story. I think a lot of lives would be changed if we each spent an hour talking with immigrants to hear their real story, rather than the ones we imagine.

    I went to one of the local beauty colleges for a pedicure a few years ago, and my student nail technician was a 40-something lady from Vietnam. She didn’t speak great English, and she wasn’t all that good at doing nails. Some of the other students working nearby were clearly making fun of her and rolling their eyes at her mistakes. But she and I got to talking, and I learned that she’d been an elementary school teacher for years in Vietnam. She was well-educated and loved her country, but said that life was better here in the U.S. I couldn’t imagine what life must have been like that she went from a professional job in a country where she spoke the language fluently and wasn’t (presumably) mocked every day to the exact opposite in America. She earned my respect, and it was a valuable reminder that we are all just people doing the best we can.

  4. Great bit! Totally out of character. But great bit!

  5. The cold hard fact are there are more people trying to get into this country than those who are leaving. My four years in the Navy exposed me to just how hard and dead end life is for millions of people all over the globe.

    Overpopulation and living from day to day to get enough to eat is the norm in a lot of the countries I was exposed to during my Navy days. I got an education about the reality of life and how good we all have it in this country. Even in times of a poor economy we have
    a safety net of a meager income until people can get back on their feet.

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