The tall row of doors stood open to let the masses in as if Lady Liberty herself had swung them wide open.
Those open floor-to-ceiling doors made America look so welcoming at a time when people argue over building walls to keep foreigners out.
The courtroom at the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse on Superior Avenue in Cleveland filled with nearly 200 people, most of them witnesses to the hope that America promises. They came to see their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors, turn into Americans.
In these turbulent times when the right and left argue over immigration, over who should be allowed in, over how high and long and thick to build a wall, there is a haven of rest where people from all over the world land to start their journey as Americans.
On May 3, my friend Derdriu Ring joined the crowd. She came here from Ireland many years ago, married, had two children and performed in endless plays. She carries a visa and an Irish passport, a reminder that home is here, almost.
Her daughter and son wore red, white and blue, and waited to hear their mother’s name called. Derdriu glowed, as always, her red hair shining brighter than ever.
“I’m not an alien anymore,” she whispered. “I’ve been an alien up to today.”
My mom felt the sting of being an alien in America. She took the oath to be a citizen when I was 10. There was no celebration. She was embarrassed to learn her parents had lied to her, that she wasn’t born in Akron. When she learned the truth that she was born in Czechoslovakia and had no legal birth record here, the shame and fear of being an “illegal alien” drove her to quietly apply for citizenship, take the test and the oath.
If only I could have witnessed that glorious moment when she raised her hand. If only it had been a glorious moment.
But this day was full of glory. It was church quiet in the courtroom, except for the crinkle of candy wrappers, the squirming of little boys in too-tight suits and little girls in scratchy dresses and a small child singing the "ABC"s song.
They came from nearly 40 countries wearing headdresses, crosses and flowers. People named Serge, Ramone, Abdullah, Patricio and Ahmin. People from Ukraine. Russia. Romania. Moldova. Poland. Granada. Bosnia. Albania. Netherlands. Canada. China. South Korea. Taiwan. Sri Lanka. Peru. Mexico. Brazil. Dominican Republic. Jamaica. Sudan. Egypt. Iraq. Syria. Israel. Jordan. Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia. Philippines. India. Burma. Bhutan. Ghana. Burkina Faso. Congo. Togo. Australia. And Ireland.
Each person received a copy of The Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States. A welcome home letter from the president read, “The United States is now your homeland, and all Americans are now your brothers and sisters. You have pledged your heart to America. And when you give your love and loyalty to America, she returns her love and loyalty to you.”
They faced the words, “We the People,” on a giant print of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. When the gavel struck and they rose to pledge allegiance to America. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Parker told them immigration can be a controversial and divisive issue, but to remember they were joining a country that, “when we disagree, we keep on talking.” He told them that their new country is only 243 years old and urged them to make it better by obeying the laws, voting in every election and serving on a jury if asked.
He invited them to turn and look at their new fellow citizens, to see the face of America.
Their hands shot up in the air. Black. Brown. Yellow. White. Old. Young. Thick. Delicate. Calloused. Smooth. They vowed to “absolutely and entirely renounce allegiance to any foreign state, support and defend the Constitution, bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law, perform work of national importance when required, so help me God.”
With two words, they were in.
With two words, America grew wider and deeper, smarter and bolder.
Then everyone clamored in the hallway to eat cookies, accept hugs and shake hands. Before leaving, they gathered around a long counter to register to vote, to put their mark on America, to make it a place of hope for someone else to land.
Connect with Regina Brett on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans. 2018 Best Columnist, AJPA Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary.