Remarks by The Honorable Heather Wilson
Former Member of Congress
Convention Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico
March 5, 2010
It’s such a pleasure to be with you to celebrate this wonderful day in your lives. Let me be one of the first to welcome you as America’s newest citizens. Many Americans take this gift of citizenship for granted. Many of us are here because our forefathers, at some point, made the choice you just made.
We didn’t have to pass a test, or know the Constitution, or demonstrate that we can speak English. You’ve made a choice. You waited. You worked hard. You studied. And now, as someone told me at a previous nationalization ceremony, you get to have a second birthday: the day you became an American. And from now on, when someone asks you your nationality, you can smile and say those wonderful words, “I’m an American.”
Over 230 years ago, a sparsely populated collection of colonies on the edge of a vast continent embarked on an experiment in self-government that was not expected to succeed. Men and some women who had a great deal to lose pledged everything they had – their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor – to secure liberty and prove that a people could govern themselves. Many of those men who signed the declaration of independence did lose their lives, and their fortunes, and their families to secure our liberty. But none of them – not one – ever turned their back on their pledge. They never lost their honor.
These founding Americans were some of the first to let go of their past in order to build a new future. You are some of the most recent.
As citizens, you have rights.
* The right to practice your faith.
* The right to speak freely.
* The right to the privacy of your home.
* The right to pursue your own version of happiness – a small business, a career in medicine, a farm of apple trees, or a family. Not someone else’s dream, but your own very personal dream.
But as citizens, we not only have rights. We also have responsibilities.
As citizens, I hope you make three choices about your lives. First, I hope you choose to be involved. We are a self-governing people. And self-government is not a spectator sport. That means you should vote. More importantly, you should seek to inform yourselves, and read and listen and understand the choices we face as a nation. An educated citizenry is essential to the continuation of a self-governing country. Being involved also means serving, in some way, at some time in your life. Whether it is in your neighborhood association, on the zoning commission; as a police officer or volunteer fire fighter; in our national guard, or as a tutor in your local school; or in elected office, Americans serve as a duty of citizenship.
And your children and grandchildren will learn the duties of citizenship by watching you. As a child, I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire. Every spring, we would have “town meeting” – a Saturday when all the adults in town would come together and debate and vote on whether we could afford a full time policeman or a new fire engine and how many days a week the library would be open. Women would bring their knitting and some would just listen. Others would debate every point for hours on end.
In the next town over, Swanzey, one year they decided not to fix the roads around the lake because everyone who lived there knew where the holes were. And if they fixed the roads, the out-of-town people would just drive faster. So, they didn’t fix the roads that year. There is much to be said for this active participation strengthening our Democracy. Choose to be involved.
I hope you also make a second choice. Chose to make a positive contribution to the community in which you live. We expect you to be law abiding, but, as citizens, we expect more than that. When our children were young, when we would come home from being out for an evening, we would ask the babysitter, “Was he a good boy? Or was she a good girl?” By that we meant did he stay out of trouble and follow the rules. But when we say someone is a “good man” or a “good woman” we mean more than that. It’s not enough just to follow the rules. A good man does good things. A good woman makes a positive contribution. Whether you are a nurse, or a cook, or a teacher or an artist, make your community and this country a better place because you are here. Chose to make a positive contribution to the community in which you live.
And, finally, I also hope you will choose to tell your stories. We are our stories. America is a richer place because your story, and your family’s story, is now woven into this beautiful fabric that is America. Stories give strength and a sense of identity to your children in America.
My middle name is Ann, for several strong women in my life. My mother’s family was Irish Catholic. My mother told me that Annie Skaley came from County Cork at the end of the potato famine as a teenager. She came alone – the one family member they could afford to send – and she worked as a maid at a time when it was common for shops to have signs in the windows that said, “No Irish Need Apply”.
On my father’s side of the family, my grandfather, George Wilson came to America in 1922. He had been a flyer in World War I and there was no work to be had in Scotland after the war. So, he came to Boston and started welding and flying airplanes as a barnstormer, selling rides and opening airports around New England. Once he got settled, he wrote home to one of the most important Annie’s in my life and his, my grandmother, Annie MacIntosh. Annie MacIntosh came to America and married my grandfather the day she got off the boat in Boston. My grandmother had two sons, five grandsons, and me.
I am Annie McIntosh’s only granddaughter and now I wear her wedding ring as my own. The same ring my grandfather put on her hand the day she arrived in America in 1922. Annie McIntosh Wilson was a seamstress and worked in a shoe factory. Her mother gave her a silver thimble when she came to America, with her initials on it. My daughter, like me, carries the middle name Ann. Some day, she will have her great grandmother’s thimble, and she will know the stories of the strong women named Ann that are her heritage.
That is my story, pieces of which I learned sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table drinking Gingerale and eating her wonderful oatmeal raisin cookies. Choose to tell your stories so that you make America a richer place, and inspire your children and grandchildren with your determination, your values, and your dreams.
My grandparents and parents are all gone now. While I know they would be proud that their granddaughter served in the United States Congress, I don’t think they would be surprised. You see, they believed in this country and its promise. They served this country and the community in which they lived.
I cannot tell you what political party they belonged to. I don’t remember ever talking about politics with my grandparents. But I can tell you that, as children, we would be hauled up by our collars if we failed to stand up when the American flag went by during the Memorial Day parade.
Choose to be involved. Choose to make a positive contribution to the community in which you live. And choose to tell your stories.
Now you, and your stories, are part of this nation. It is a nation like no other, engaged in a continuing experiment in self-government for over 230 years.
Welcome to America. We are glad you are here.
May God bless you and may God bless this great nation we all call home.