Remarks by the First Lady at a USCIS Naturalization Ceremony in Observance of César Chávez Day in Keene, California
[As prepared for delivery.]
As I prepared to join you today, I thought about another "American by Choice"—someone who was recognized with the same honor we are giving today: Madeline Albright.
She was a woman who defied convention and broke barriers—and in doing so, she made our country stronger. Joe and I are both praying for her loved ones and we will miss her very much.
I'm glad to be back in California with so many good friends. And I want to say that it's an honor to be joined by so many members of the Chávez family today.
Long before I ever had the chance to visit Italy, I learned to love a piece of Sicily in my grandparents' kitchen. I remember the ribbons of homemade pasta hanging to dry, the smells of fresh basil and oregano when my grandmom made tomato sauce. I remember laughing as my grandpop toasted slice after slice of Italian-bread toast—always burning it—because we could never get enough.
When my great-grandparents Gaetano and Conchetta Giacoppa came to America, they became Gaetano and Conchetta Jacobs. Their names changed, but the values they brought across the Atlantic stayed the same: Loyalty. Generosity. Kindness. Joy.
Those values are what they taught their son, my grandpop Dominic, who grew up to deliver furniture for a small store in New Jersey, working hard to build a life that he could be proud of.
They're what grandpop passed on to my dad, who fought for our nation in World War II—who raised me and my four sisters to believe that in America, anything is possible.
They're what my father passed on to me—what inspired me to become a teacher and to never waste the platforms I've been given.
In their own way—through our family and in our community—my immigrant great-grandparents reshaped their small corner of this country.
It's a common story—and it's an American story.
Geography doesn't define this country—after all, our borders have changed. Language and ethnicity don't define us, nor does race or religion. America is and has always been defined by us. We, the people. With varied background and beliefs, as different as the day is long, each of us makes our nation and remakes it—in big ways and small ones. When we create and innovate. When we raise families and start businesses. When we run for office or share our stories or show up to volunteer.
We are millions of individuals that add up to something so much bigger than any one of us.
It's an idea that is both simple and revolutionary enough to change the course of history. Our founding fathers and mothers knew that a government of the people and by the people was bound to make mistakes. We are all beautifully and tragically human, after all. But they believed that if each of us brought our best—our kindness and courage, our loyalty and love—we would eventually find a path that leads to right more often than wrong.
As many of you know, in just a few days, we will celebrate César Chávez Day. Last year, I spent it at the Forty Acres with the United Farm Workers. So I'm excited to honor a woman who has taken up his legacy: Teresa Romero. Teresa, with your leadership, the United Farm Workers continues to be a voice of justice and humanity for the hard-working people who keep food on our tables. You make our nation stronger every day.
And you remind us of César's words: "God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth."
His words are a call to all Americans—to raise our voices, to bring our best—and that is especially true of you, our newest Americans.
Because who knows the value of justice better than those who have faced persecution and exploitation? Who knows how to build strong communities better than those who have left behind destruction? Who knows the possibility of a dream better than those who traveled miles just to find it?
I know how hard you have worked to be here today—how long many of you have waited. You've had to sacrifice—to adapt— and I also know that the values that make you who you are, and brought you this far, have only been strengthened by your journey.
Today, you are not just Americans. You are Americans by choice.
And like so many generations of immigrants who have come before you, you will shape your corner of our country to be stronger, more unique, and more beautiful than before.
We are grateful to welcome you today—and we are proud to call you our countrymen and women.
Jill Biden, Remarks by the First Lady at a USCIS Naturalization Ceremony in Observance of César Chávez Day in Keene, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355197