My parents raised me to believe in the American Dream.
They grew up in different countries—Mom in Nicaragua, Dad in Mexico—but they met and fell in love in an American citizenship class in southern California.
From this storybook beginning, they raised their seven children to believe that if you work hard and give back, you can accomplish anything in this country.
As the first in my family to go to college and the first Latina to lead a major U.S. Cabinet agency, I am living proof that my parents were right.
Yesterday, I shared my parents’ message of optimism with 21 brand-new Americans as they took their oath of citizenship during an immigration ceremony in New York City just two days before Independence Day. They were beaming with pride, knowing that their journey to full citizenship will culminate this week with fireworks. It meant the world to me to be there and greet them for the first time as citizens. After all, the U.S. naturalization process gave birth to my family.
Together, we celebrated the rich diversity of the American experience. In that room were 21 proud faces representing 18 different countries. There were citizens raising families and citizens going to college. One worked in high finance; another in a restaurant. I met a man from Guyana serving in the Army National Guard and a Dominican woman who cares for sick people.
Each had a unique story and unique contributions they will bring to our democracy.
I talked about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship: to stay informed, get involved, respect one’s neighbors, support the Constitution and exercise the right to vote. But even more importantly, in these difficult economic times, I talked about an even more fundamental responsibility—to work hard, move up the ladder and pursue all of the opportunities that life as an American citizen has to offer.
The fact is, the face of the American labor force is changing, and we don’t have anyone’s talent to spare. As both the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the proud daughter of immigrants, I know that each time the American Dream comes true, our entire nation is the richer for it.