Our Voice: Newly naturalized citizens teach, remind us of fortunes

This week, 27 Mid-Columbians took the oath of citizenship. It's a ceremony that takes place in Richland three or four times a year.

The process is not a quick one nor an easy one. Applicants must pass a language test that assesses their ability to read, write and speak English. They also must pass a civics test -- one that we suspect many native-born Americans would struggle with.

If you want to see if you're up to the challenge, a copy of 100 questions that an immigrant's knowledge has to cover is available at www.uscis.gov.

Becoming a citizen is daunting, but there are plenty of rewards. The most notable is to be able to participate in our political system.

After each ceremony, officials from the local county clerks offices and volunteers from the League of Women Voters are on hand to help new citizens register to vote.

If everyone had to test and earn the privilege to vote, would we take the opportunity more seriously when the ballot arrives in the mail?

Our citizenship is one of the things we too often take for granted. We sometimes neglect the obligations that come with our "certain inalienable rights."

For the newly naturalized, they have worked hard for this day and this honor.

This latest crop of new citizens came from 11 countries. All have traveled great distances to be here. For many, it is a mental and emotional journey as well.

Of the 27 people, there are 27 stories. Each one is different. Each one is inspiring.

In the 16 years that Judge Ed Shea has served as a judge at the U.S. District Court, he has naturalized hundreds of new citizens. But he said it is an honor for him every time.

"I always tell them this is a great country, but it's not a perfect one. It's a product of many generations of immigrants from across the planet who have worked hard to make it great," Shea said.

"I also tell them that they are Americans, but they are also part of the country of their birth and that they will return to their native lands, to their city or village, and take their children there to visit. And it will be a part of their family history."

Most of us are immigrants or descedants of immigrants. At one point in our family histories, we shared that feeling of apprehension and adventure that calls people to a new land.

And regardless of how we got here or how long our family has been here, we are fortunate to live in a country that affords us freedoms and opportunities.

We also are fortunate to be able to attract immigrants seeking a better life from around the world -- to share our American dream with them and to be enriched by their cultures.