SOUTH BEND - Sometimes we forget what it means to be an American.
But for the 136 people holding U.S. flags Friday in the University of Notre Dame’s Washington Hall, the knowledge of the rights and obligations of an American citizen were clear.
They were there to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. They had completed their test, an interview and mounds of paperwork in preparation for this day and were just waiting for the final step. Some of them for six months.
“I started the process in January of this year,” said Janet Weikel of South Bend. “My interview was on May 14. I had to wait six months for the ceremony, but it was worth it in the end.”
Originally from China, she came to the U.S. in 1998 because her parents thought there were better opportunities here for education.
“When I first came, I couldn’t speak English,” she said. “But the people were so nice and friendly and willing to help.”
She took a six-month intensive English course in Arkansas and eventually attended the University of Florida.
Now, she’s married to a Mishawaka native and has a 3-year-old son. She says that she looks forward to participating in future elections.
“My husband is actively involved with working for a politician and I want to be able to vote and voice my opinion in this great country.”
She joined immigrants from 40 other countries at the naturalization ceremony. Locally, these ceremonies can usually only accommodate 40 to 50 candidates for citizenship because the space at the courthouse is not large enough to handle more. So, Notre Dame hosted the event for the second time in its history.
“It came about because the citizenship program at La Casa had 23 people who needed to swear in,” said Nanci Flores, citizenship program director at La Casa de Amistad in South Bend.
The program teaches English and civics to prepare students for the citizenship exam.
“It kind of puts their lives on hold,” she said. So, she approached the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Chicago about the possibility of holding a larger ceremony and then partnered with the Institute for Latino Studies to pull it off.
“It’s kind of pertinent that this was held in Washington Hall,” Flores said.
She says the committee wanted to tie the ceremony into Veterans Day, which is next Friday. So, they asked Miller’s Vets to present the colors at the ceremony.
“They are former and current members of the Center for the Homeless and we wanted to honor them because of all the new citizens they have already put their lives on the line for,” Flores said.
They asked John Affleck-Graves, executive vice president at Notre Dame, to speak and Flores said she really enjoyed his remarks.
“He was personable and relatable,” she says.
That’s because he understands.