My name is Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy. I’m so happy to be here, helping you celebrate your special day.
And what a day it is. You are becoming American citizens. Let me say that again, more slowly this time, so it really sinks in. You . . . are . . . becoming . . . American . . . citizens.
I would say “congratulations,” but that doesn’t seem like enough, does it?
That’s because there are moments in life that are so meaningful they cannot be captured with words.
There are moments that language cannot do justice.
Today is one of those moments.
I know this, because I was you. Let me rephrase that. I am you. And you are me.
Thirty years ago, in 1989, when I was a 10-year-old girl, I stood next to my mom at an event like this one, and together we pledged our allegiance to America.
I still have the small American flag they gave us during the ceremony. It’s become one of my family’s most cherished possessions. In fact, my son Liem waved the same flag nearly three years ago when I was sworn in as a Member of Congress, the first Vietnamese-American woman ever to have that honor. I’m not sure my son was old enough to understand how much that meant to me, but one day he will.
Ceremonies like this are special because they mark the end of one journey and the start of a new journey. They’re a time to look toward the future, but also a time to reflect upon the past. As you sit here, it’s only natural for you to think about the places you’ve been, about the obstacles you’ve overcome, and about the people who loved you and lifted your spirits along the way.
Some of those people might be here today, cheering for you. Others may live on only in your cherished memories.
There are 73 of you. You come from 32 countries. No two of your stories are the same. You each followed your own path to arrive at this point.
Despite your differences, you are also united by an unbreakable bond. Every one of you had to struggle and sacrifice to become an American citizen. I know it wasn’t easy. You had to earn it. And today you will receive your remarkable reward.
Being here with you, I cannot help but think back on the journey that culminated in my own citizenship ceremony.
I was born in Vietnam in 1978, a few years after the Vietnam War ended. A communist government had taken power, and it sought to punish or “re-educate” those who had worked alongside American or South Vietnamese forces during the war. My parents fell into that category, and so our family lived in fear.
When I was a baby, my mom and dad concluded things had to change. They wanted me and my older brother to live in a place where we would be safe, where we would have freedom and dignity, and where we would have the opportunity for a better life—and they didn’t think any of that was possible in Vietnam.
So we fled Vietnam by boat in the dead of night. By attempting to escape, my parents took the risk that we might not survive the voyage. But they had decided that it was better for our family to die together in search of light than to live in darkness. Years later, now that I’m a mother myself, I cannot imagine the courage it took my parents to make this choice.
And it almost didn’t work out. Our boat ran out of fuel in the middle of the South China Sea and we were dangerously adrift. But thanks to grace or good fortune, a U.S. Navy ship patrolling in the area received our distress signal and came to our aid. They gave us the fuel, food, and supplies we needed to safely reach a Malaysian refugee camp. From there, a church in the state of Virginia sponsored our passage to the United States.
Here my family found sanctuary, freedom, and opportunity. We never took these things for granted. Because we knew what life was like without them.
Although America became my family’s new home as soon as we arrived here, it wasn’t until a decade later that my mother and I became fully and formally American in a ceremony like this one.
I can still remember helping my mother, who struggled with English, as she studied for the questions on the civics test.
How many stars are there on the American flag? Fifty—representing the 50 states.
What are the three branches of government? Legislative. Executive. Judicial.
How many voting members are there in the U.S. House of Representatives? 435. As I helped my mom prepare for the exam, who could have imagined that one day I would be fortunate enough to count myself among them?
But that’s the thing about America. If you have big dreams, and if you’re willing to work hard, you can achieve more than you ever imagined possible.
Today, as you complete one journey and prepare for your next journey, I hope you will remember these words from President Abraham Lincoln. He said: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. And I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”
I urge you to live your life in a way that makes America—which is now your place—proud of you. I have no doubt that you will.
I hope you will become informed and engaged citizens—citizens who care deeply about the direction and destiny of your country. The decisions that America makes are important not only to its own citizens, but also to citizens of other countries, including nations where freedom and opportunity may be in short supply.
Go forward with a sense of purpose. Register to vote. Express your opinions to elected officials. Keep us honest. Hold us accountable. Get involved in your community, in whatever capacity you can. Fight for the causes you care about. Contribute your talent and your passion. Help America remain faithful to its founding ideals of justice and equality.
Two days from now, we will sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving—and I know all of us have much to be grateful for.
As I always do, I will give thanks for this country, which saved my family’s life. And I will give thanks for men and women like you, new citizens who make our nation even stronger and who replenish its spirit.
So, from one grateful American to 73 of my fellow Americans—I wish you good luck and Godspeed.