I Pledge Allegiance... Becoming a Citizen at The New York Public Library
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America
and to the republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Have you heard those words—the Pledge of Allegiance—recited recently, by a group of adults?
I hadn't, until I attended a naturalization ceremony at the Library. This past September 17, one of 180 special naturalization ceremonies held across the country to commemorate Citizenship Day took place in the NYPL's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Seventy-four adults from 40 countries took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, confirming their choice to become citizens with all the rights and responsibilities that imparts.
The group of new citizens that day included professor and film expert Ken Dancyger, who gave the keynote speech and his wife, Dr. Ida Dancyger. Mr. Dancyger shared with us a bit of the path that led them to U.S. citizenship after having lived in the U.S. since 1991. He was born in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp—the camp where Anne Frank died—in 1945; she was born in Kazahkstan, where her parents had fled from Nazi-occupied Poland.
Public libraries are more than just the place for prospective citizens to find materials about becoming a citizen and passing the test, although that is certainly the case; they are increasingly hosting naturalization ceremonies in partnership with the U.S. government. On June 30, at this year’s annual conference of the American Library Association in Chicago, Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), signed a Memorandum of Understanding to forge closer links between public libraries and USCIS in an effort to provide the resources prospective citizens need. Many public libraries have created Citizenship Corners, making use of the Civics and Citizenship Toolkit USCIS has created and made freely available to many organizations, including libraries.
The New York Public Library's services to immigrants today include offering a wide variety of materials to prepare for citizenship, assistance in entering the Diversity Visa/Green Card lottery at several locations, and classes for those learning the English language.
By their very nature, public libraries as envisioned by their early proponent and champion, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, freely welcome the immigrant as no other institution can. Perhaps Lithuanian immigrant Martin Radtke (1883-1973) said it best, in words which are inscribed near the Fifth Avenue entrance to NYPL’s Schwarzman Building, in Astor Hall: I had little opportunity for formal education as a young man in Lithuania, and I am deeply indebted to The New York Public Library for the opportunity to educate myself. In appreciation, I have given the Library my estate with the wish that it be used so that others can have the same opportunity made available to me.
All photos courtesy of U.S. Citizenship & Information Service.