Today, 30 more Americans from countries around the world will celebrate Veterans Day -- this time, as U.S. citizens. On November 7, 2013, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park hosted a ceremony conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at which the more-than-two-dozen candidates became citizens of the United States. Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, Founder and Chair Emeritus of the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, reminded attendees that President Roosevelt was a champion of freedom for all of his "fellow immigrants" as he described Americans in a famous speech at the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall in 1939. His legacy, memorialized at the majestic Park on Roosevelt Island, set a powerful stage for the day's events. Following is the speech Ambassador vanden Heuvel delivered.
In February 1939 the DAR, the Daughters of the American Revolution, barred Marian Anderson, one of the greatest contraltos in the history of music, from performing at its auditorium in Washington, D.C., because she was African American. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the president, and a member of the DAR, immediately resigned from the organization and proceeded to organize a memorable event at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday of 1939, where Ms. Anderson sang to an audience of 75,000 people. It was an affirmation of the America that we wanted to be. President Roosevelt was scheduled to speak at the same auditorium the next day to the DAR. He began his speech by saying: "My fellow immigrants." In those few words he reminded them and now all of us that we are truly all immigrants but for the Native Americans whose land this was and whose special relationship to it we must always recognize. All of us came from foreign lands, from families that shared the same dreams that you have -- opportunity, freedom, economic betterment, a better life, education. We are all here because America is the land where all of us are equal and we believe, as the Founding Fathers wrote, that "we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights and among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That is the definition of America that each generation is challenged to understand, to advance, to make real.
My parents prized their naturalization certificates more than anything else they owned. Those certificates hung in our living room, as today they hang in my office, a reminder of the long journey that so many have taken so that their children for generations to come would have the opportunity of this free land.
Today is something more, however. It is not only a reminder of opportunity, it is also the challenge of responsibility. Today our country has a pre-eminent place in the world. We must make our country better in every way that we can. We live in a time of threat and danger. That is not unusual. The forces that destroyed so much at the World Trade Center, including the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens, are still threatening our way of life. We must not be afraid, but we must be vigilant. That is a citizen's responsibility. We must appreciate that our society and our civilization is built on law and order, where we respect one another, where we do not do harm and do not allow harm to be done to others. We must continue the hard work that has built the greatness of America. We must respect the environment and understand the threats to it and accept as our responsibility to future generations the protection of that environment in the years of our lives. American, with all of its flaws and even its failures, with all of its strife and conflicts, is still the beacon for the world because we have held true to democracy as our political system, because we elect our representatives and hold them accountable to us, the citizens of the United States. It is our continuing responsibility to educate ourselves as to our needs and dreams, to prepare ourselves to be responsible participants in the democratic process, to vote, to cause our political parties to have a broader platform than self-interest -- to have the responsibility of protecting the American dream for generations to come.
There will be days in our lives, as there have always been, that will be difficult, sometimes tragic and sometimes truly challenging. I suggest on those days that you come back to this, the Four Freedoms Park; that you share again the extraordinary panorama of this gateway to America, that you absorb the spiritual essence that it represents, that you read the words that President Roosevelt said on January 6, 1941, when he defined the kind of world we want to build, a world based on four fundamental freedoms: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedoms from Want, Freedom from Fear. You will gain strength from the ocean that leads us to great harbors. You will remember the purposes of the United Nations, an expression of American leadership to allow all nations to work together in the preservation of peace and the prevention of violence. You will recall a great President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in the prime of his life was stricken by polio and disabled so that he could never walk again or stand alone.
With the greatest of human endurance and strength he overcame that challenge so that just 11 years after his affliction he was elected President of the United States and lifted our nation from its knees at the time of the most terrible economic depression in our history. He then led the Allied effort to repel the forces of barbarism in World War II. He told his fellow Americans that all the sadness and sacrifice and brutality of war can only be justified in history if, surviving it, we seek to create a better world, a world based upon the four freedoms. Each of us has to respond to that challenge in our own way. President Roosevelt and the America he led made it possible for us to be here today, to welcome a new generation of citizens who will sustain the patriotism and devotion to freedom that American must always represent. Let us together accept the challenge of what this Park represents and let us, proudly as citizens of the world's oldest democracy, pledge "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" to make America ever greater as the guardian of freedom. And when you face tough times and difficult decisions, remember President Roosevelt's advice: When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.
Read this piece on the Huffington Post.