A weekend conference promoting engaged citizenship also hosted a naturalization ceremony on Friday, welcoming 30 new citizens at Seattle Center.
When Anne Derieux moved to Seattle from France in 1992 to dance in the Pacific Northwest Ballet, she wasn’t planning to stick around.
“I said I would be here for two years,” said Derieux, 45. On Friday — two kids and two decades later — she became a U.S. citizen.
Derieux, who is now director of advancement for the French American School of Puget Sound, was one of 30 people from 17 countries naturalized in a public ceremony at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion on Friday afternoon. The event was hosted by The Guiding Lights Network, an organization promoting active citizenship, which held its annual conference Thursday through Saturday.
The conference, called The Guiding Lights Weekend, has been held at Seattle Center for seven years, said its founder, Eric Liu.
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That’s because Seattle is a model for civic engagement, said Liu, who’s lived here since 2000.
“We’re so proud of doing it here,” he said. “Seattle exemplifies this spirit of engaged citizenship, and I want to show off Seattle to the rest of the country, what we’ve got in the air and the water here.”
Also naturalized were six people from China, three from Ethiopia and two each from Bulgaria, Iran, New Zealand, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. Some brought friends, relatives or children, who merrily waved American flags while their parents took the oath of citizenship.
They were welcomed by keynote speaker Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Holocaust survivor and recipient of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
When Klein was liberated in 1945, she told the audience, she was 21 and had been, since age 15, living in hiding, and later in slave-labor and concentration camps. She had barely survived a death march and lost everyone in her family and all of her friends.
Klein told the country’s 30 newest citizens about the moment she knew she wanted to become a United States citizen: the day she was liberated by an American soldier who would become her husband.
“He asked me to come with him,” she remembered. “And then he did something I did not understand: He simply held the door open for me and let me precede him. And in that gesture he restored me to humanity.”
Liu said Guiding Lights, a nonpartisan organization, suggests being engaged in one’s community is the most important aspect of citizenship, whether one is native-born or undocumented.
Speakers over the weekend included Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and undocumented immigrant who’s advocated for the DREAM Act — proposed legislation that offers a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants — and Annie Leonard, a creator of an environmental video called “The Story of Stuff,” which went viral on YouTube.
This year’s conference was themed “Live Like a Citizen.” That fit well with Friday’s ceremony, Liu said.
“To meet these brand-new Americans, it fires you up. It makes you realize and appreciate what this whole experiment called America is supposed to be about,” he said. “It puts everything in perspective: Our troubles, our concerns, they’re real. But here’s a group of people who’ve chosen to be with us.”
Derieux said she thought long and hard about becoming a citizen, but the decision became clear to her the last time she returned to the airport after a trip to see family in France.
As a green-card holder, she had to head through the foreigners’ line.
“I’ve been here for 20 years,” she thought to herself. “I really don’t belong to that lane any more.”
At the end of her address, the 87-year-old Klein advised the 30 new citizens — many of them teary-eyed — to hold onto their passports. It’s her most precious possession, she said.
“There is no such thing as a bad day when you are in a room in which there is a door handle in sight,” Klein told them. “You are in freedom.”
Lark Turner: 206-464-2761 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @larkreports