Celebrate Citizenship Day 2012 – exercise your right to vote!

September 17, 2012

"That day was a fun day. A lot of people were there and cheering for us. It feels good when you get it. It's a happy day and a proud day. Everybody is giving you an open hand and an open heart and loving you. But it's not easy to get there." -Fatuma Osman, a former refugee from Somalia, describing the day she became an American citizen

Monday, September 17 marked Citizenship Day, a day established by President Truman to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Citizenship Day, also known as Constitution Day, was created to celebrate native born citizens and foreign born Americans who have naturalized in the past year. As President Truman reminded the first Citizenship Day honorees in 1952, "the success of free government depends upon the willingness of the citizen to participate in it, to contribute to it, and to sacrifice for it."

Sacrifice in the name of political expression is something that many new Americans like Fatuma are intimately familiar with. The United Nations estimates that there are over 15 million refugees the world over, many of whom have been persecuted because of the political views they hold. Even after they escape persecution, refugees wait for years in uncertain and unstable conditions as they wait for relief or the opportunity of resettlement. Once they are resettled, however, Fatuma and new Americans revere the opportunity and responsibility of citizenship. When asked why she decided to become a U.S. citizen and what citizenship means to her she replied,

"When we arrived here and stayed here for five years and at that point you have to be a citizen. After seven years in America, if we are not citizens, that is a shame. Being a citizen, it makes it easier to be a voter and a member of the community? When you get it, it allows you."

Citizenship Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate the value of citizenship, the freedom of political expression we enjoy, the importance of civic participation, and the contributions of the newest Americans to our communities. This election season, exercise your greatest civil right and responsibility by registering to vote and promoting civic engagement in your community.