The following editorial by Madeline Iseli, Chair of the Oakwood Inclusion Coalition, appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 16, 2024.
The recent story of the naturalization ceremony held at Oakwood High School brought tears to my eyes. Face beaming, a new U.S. citizen holds her citizenship paperwork overhead in a gesture of pure joy and triumph. Students and teachers applaud, some in standing ovation, as U.S. flags and a giant “Congratulations” banner hang in celebration. To me, this is America.
I write this as the child of immigrants, a first-generation American born and raised in the Miami Valley. I remember my own parents’ naturalization ceremony. It was 1971 and I was 9 years old. The ceremony was in the courtroom of The Old Post Office Building in Downtown Dayton. As my parents stood to take the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, I remember realizing that it was an important moment, but also not fully understanding why, though I knew my parents had attended citizenship classes at the Dayton YWCA, and that they had had to study for a test.
Of course, at that age, I couldn’t have fully grasped the profound implications of their decisions to become citizens, nor the extensive process they undertook. As one who was born on U.S. soil, my citizenship was naturally granted to me. My parents, on the other hand, had to earn theirs. They completed multiple forms, provided documentation, demonstrated proficiency in English, and passed a civics exam. And ultimately, in that Oath of Allegiance, they had to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity” to their homelands.
These are profound decisions, with both benefits and responsibilities. My father, from Indonesia, worked hard as a tool and die maker, providing for our family with many overtime shifts. My mother, from Holland, became involved in the Five Oaks neighborhood association. Both of my parents volunteered in our schools, my dad even doing so during the day when he worked the third shift. And of the highest importance to them both, they never, ever missed an election. My parents contributed economically and civically to their chosen country. Of this I am tremendously proud.
And how wonderful that the students at Oakwood High School, from which my own children graduated, could share that same profound moment of U.S. Citizenship attainment with the newest of our citizens. Many thanks to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and the Oakwood Schools for bringing these important Constitutional experiences to our young people to, as U.S. District Judge Michael Newman described, “…see the Constitution in action today.”
To the U.S. Constitution we all bear a responsibility, some of us born with it, some of us who willingly choose it. Immigrants contribute mightily to our economy, to the richness of our cultural life, and to the principles of our Constitution. After all, 7 of the 39 men who signed the Constitution were immigrants. We owe all immigrants a debt of gratitude for choosing to build their lives, and their country – OUR country – in the United States of America.
A lifelong Daytonian and current senior vice president at Sinclair Community College, Madeline Iseli’s career has centered on public and community service.