The following was excerpted from comments made by Josie Bacallao, President/CEO of Hispanic Unity at a Naturalization Ceremony in the USCIS office in Oakland Park, Florida.
Let me get a bit personal.
My doctors were born in China and Ethiopia.
My husband’s family is from Portugal, England and Ireland and my family resembles the United Nations.
At Hispanic Unity, our VP of Programs is from Colombia, our CFO’s parents were Italian, our Controller is Indian and our Donor Relations Manager was born in Broward County and is African American.
Our management team includes individuals born in Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
Our three Citizenship Instructors speak Spanish, English, Haitian-Creole, French, Ukrainian, Russian and a few other Eastern European languages.
Hispanic Unity’s Board of Directors includes volunteers whose families immigrated from Cuba, Poland and Sweden.
Our company’s technologist was born in Jamaica.
Our facilities are maintained by a gentleman from Trinidad and Tobago and he is married to a Moroccan woman.
This is why I love South Florida.
The weather is nice, but outside of NY City, and a few other places in the world, there is nowhere else with such a mosaic of polyculturalism.
This is also why I love working at Hispanic Unity. Our agency’s name does not reflect that our nonprofit organization serves 17,000 immigrants from 25 countries – and we do this work in five languages. One program works with clients using American Sign-Language.
We serve 1,500 clients with naturalization and citizenship services every year. And when they return to our classes to share his/her experience with the naturalization interview or swearing in ceremony it feels like a celebration.
Another New American!
It’s a beautiful thing to witness. It is a cause for celebration.
For YOU, TODAY is YOUR special moment. A day to savor. It is a day to reflect on how you define yourself. For many it is a day where the love and gratitude for this nation is at its peak.
It is also a solemn day. A day when you take an oath to protect this country.
I believe it is a day when you should make a second pledge – a PRIVATE pledge. A pledge to help this country remain strong; to help the U.S. remain a vibrant democracy.
And how do you keep this fragile concept called Democracy alive?
Like anything worth having, it takes commitment and hard work.
It takes the same level of commitment it took you to be here today. Because I know how hard and tough the road to this auditorium was for you.
Your private pledge can be this: you will become an active player in your community’s public life – in our civil society.
What would that look like? What could you do – you, a brand new American?
America is unique in many ways but one of its most precious characteristics is the generosity of its citizens. Civil society means that you are engaged in your community. You volunteer. You vote. You help support a variety of organizations working to make the U.S. and your community strong.
As an immigrant you already share many of America’s best values – your love of family and your fervent belief that in the U.S. if you work hard you can obtain the American dream.
Americans also expect of immigrants – especially those who have are New Americans — to be part of the community. America is our new home. And our family just became much larger. It includes our neighbors.
In addition to continuing to strengthen our English language skills, they are expecting we also share their passion for the community and for civic life through volunteering and becoming civically engaged.
But how do you become involved?
It can mean you get involved with your child’s school. You become part of the PTA. You tutor. You help to fund raise.
You can become involved by learning about the candidates running for office or about special issues and sharing what you learn with others – and encouraging them to vote and making sure YOU vote.
It simply means giving of your time and your talents.
There is no greater gift we can give America – the “Mother of Exiles” – a place that has already given so much to us – than to give back as a family. Involving the next generation – your children and grandchildren in civic life is a wondrous community gift.
If you don’t know where to start – well, we would love to invite you to HUF.
Right now we are training more than 200 volunteers to become tax preparers. And in January more than 5,700 individuals will receive FREE tax preparation because of these volunteers. And these services will be in six languages. Maybe you can help us add more languages to assist in underserved communities.
Or you could join HUF and SCORE our small business program partner. Last year together we helped more than 400 small business owners either start or strengthen their business.
You only have a few hours? Then volunteer for our Oct 8 Entrepreneur Summit for small business owners an event we are producing in partnership with Nova Southeastern University.
I urge you on this first day as a New American to make a pledge to keep this country great by your big and small commitments to democracy and our community.
It is an honor and true privilege for me to be with you today. I know how special my naturalization day was for me – and still is.
Keep our democracy strong . Volunteer. Vote. Give back.
And do NOT leave here today until you have registered to vote!
Thank you. Gracias. Merci.
HUF’s Citizenship work is made possible by grants from the following organizations: