By John P. Rattigan

It’s coming up again just as it does every year. As usual there will be a presidential proclamation and, as usual, the day will otherwise slip by unnoticed. Like most anniversaries it will come and then it will go, not to be thought of again until it peeks out at us from next year’s calendar page.

The date I’m talking about is September 17, known as Citizenship Day. It was established by Congress in 1952 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787. But unlike its older brother, Independence Day, there will be no holiday from the job, no fireworks and no backyard barbecues to mark the occasion.

But Congress wisely had another and more contemporary purpose in mind when designating this day – to honor those who had become American citizens during the preceding year, something that more than half a million did these past twelve months.

This is one of those remarkably few instances which come to mind where Congress seems to have gotten things exactly right. Citizenship Day honors dreamers – the dreamers of long ago who fashioned what is now the world’s oldest living constitution and the dreamers of today whose allegiance to that document came, not by birthright, but often after traveling a long and sometimes winding road. These different generations are linked by the shared gift of imagination that allowed them to see a vision of life, not as it is, but what it could be.

On August 31 at the TD Bank North Garden, 3,414 new Americans were sworn-in at one of the largest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) ceremonies in Boston to date. Clients of the Irish International Immigrant Center were well represented among those who took the oath of naturalization.

USCIS tells us that the current processing time for naturalization applications is approximately five months. In truth, the actual process begins much earlier. It started on the day the dream was born. It was the day the person finally made the life altering decision to leave homeland and family behind and set out upon a journey to a strange and distant shore. The motive was not so much a leaving behind but, rather, a yearning to move towards something – a goal, a job, a loved one or to search for whatever else it is we think we need to make our lives complete.

Naturalization marks the end of that journey, a journey to a home, not their first home but in all likelihood the place where they will live out the remainder of their lives working, marrying, raising children and just growing old. They now join the ranks of other generations which, through the ages, have each woven their own threads into the fabric of this unfinished tapestry that is called America. That pithy sounding Latin phrase on the back of our coins may seem a little old fashioned nowadays, but it still holds the best explanation as to who we truly are – “one out of many”.

On September 11 we will recall another event of a much sadder kind. While it is important not to forget, it is good to remember that we also live in an age where we can enjoy and appreciate the outcome of “the great experiment” which the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they set out on their task to form a fledgling nation 224 years ago.

You didn’t have to be at the Bank North Garden on that warm August day to see 3,414 of your neighbors become citizens to feel a little pride. You just had to know that it happened and that it continues to happen.

This country needs dreamers. It always did and it always will. As discouraging and unsettled as the future often seems, so long as America is the destination for these dreamers and the wonderful gifts they bring with them, then this country will be OK. So, go ahead, share in the celebration. It’s your dream too.

John Rattigan is the Citizenship Services Coordinator at the IIIC.