The new citizens arriving from Faneuil Hall, after their naturalization’s ceremony, welcomed by the children of the Advent school of Beacon Hill, on Thursday October 20, Greenway, Boston.

Armenian Heritage Park Hosts Ceremony to Welcome New US Citizens

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BOSTON — On Thursday, October 20, the Armenian Heritage Foundation organized its annual ceremony to welcome new US citizens to the Armenian Heritage Park on the Greenway. This ceremony has been a tradition since 2015. Food, gifts, music, signs with “welcome” written in several languages: becoming American never seemed so friendly and emotional. At the end of the day, you feel like you have seen humanity at its best.

What hit me, at first, were the voices of children — fifth-grade students from the Advent School of Beacon Hill — crying out, “Welcome!” and the sound of their applause as they cleared the way for the new citizens arriving from Faneuil Hall following their naturalization ceremony. I had chills just watching this scene of love and acceptance spreading throughout this green lawn labyrinth. It was a beautiful interaction between the children and the new Americans to witness. The immigrants’ initially doubtful but pleased faces, encountering the soft and innocent gazes of the children, made for a touching tableaux.

On this clear, warm, and blue October Thursday, I was amazed to see so many people, women, men, students, and seniors, gathered to welcome a group of 120 people from all over the world and who live in Massachusetts. As gifts for the new Americans, blinking American flags pins and other gifts from Bostonian institutions were given to these most recent Americans. The Boston Symphony Orchestra provided, for instance, 2 tickets to attend a concert to each new citizen, to welcome them to the city. The Boston Children’s Museum gave out passes for various programs and the Greenway Conservancy, offered rides on the Carrousel.

In the background, the Black Sea Salsa Band played a mix of music. Their biggest fan was maybe Maral Dulgarian, cheering them and recording them with her phone. “I’m thrilled to be here today, it reminds me of my own experience. I was an Armenian-Lebanese immigrant years ago. I’m proud to be here as part of this event and enjoy my daughter’s singing,” she said, proudly.

During the afternoon, passersby walking near the park also stopped by, including a couple of tourists attracted by the music. Among these hospitable people, Anna Gunnarson Afeyan spoke, smiling broadly to all. Her husband is the Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and CEO of Moderna, which is under the umbrella of Flagship Pioneering. They have sponsored this ceremony for many years.

“My journey to this country was really easy because I came from Sweden, however, for my husband, born in Lebanon, it was more difficult. Many of you have similar stories and this park represent all of us,” she shared. Immigrants, she believes, are essential to the fabric of Boston, and they must be properly welcomed.

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Teresa, a volunteer nearby, interacted with each individual in order to learn their story: “Because my parents were Italian immigrants, I understand how much courage it takes to leave your home country and come here. They’ all have shown a lot of leadership,” she said.

This is also why the Armenian Heritage Park is the perfect place for this ceremony, as the Reflecting Pool of water at the Labyrinth’s center proved. This particular part was created to represent hope and rebirth.

Next to the Labyrinth, the new Americans waited in line to have a plate of Armenian food from Anoush’ella, owned by Raffi and Nina Festekjian. They were glad and startled by the dishes and the gifts offered to them. When I asked them how they felt, they were a little bit shy in the face of all the attention they received. Most of them told me they didn’t expect this. But whether it was a couple from Jordan or a woman from Slovakia, who used to live in Canada, they all agreed on one thing: this ceremony made their day and it was “wonderful!”

Nigerian Chima Achusi has been in the United States for five years and he was the most enthused. He was very talkative, which was touching because I could sense his happiness: “I came for my studies first and then I decided to stay, forever,” he laughed while holding proudly blue, white, and red balloons in his hand. “It’s my best day ever, I finally feel 100-percent American, and I can fully celebrate. I met so many people from everywhere, that’s amazing,” he added.

I also had the chance to meet Mebs Murphy, originally from Burundi, who went to Canada and worked in a pharmaceutical company. He has been in the US for almost 20 years. “What will change for me is that now, I can vote, especially since the next elections are in November, so it’s very timely. Usually, I just watch it, frustrated. Now, I can act,” he said.

The first American get together for the new citizens is as traditionally Armenian as it gets, with plenty of food and music. Our people are known for being welcoming and generous, and we believe that is the meaning of the park, the Armenian Heritage Foundation realized. Knowing Armenian history, which saw many forced to leave their country, it made sense for me to see all these new citizens in the Park. It’s also a way to promote the Armenian history to people who are not familiar with it. Another component of the park is the Abstract sculpture, dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide and designed by an Armenian architect who was proudly present on Thursday, Donald Tellalian.

The Armenian Heritage Park on Thursday October 20, Greenway, Boston.

It was incredible to watch the volunteers establish a delightful connection the likes of which I had rarely seen. I remember hearing racists insults while being in Paris. A bus driver told a black woman to go back to “her country” or an old man screaming that Jews are the worst race in the subway. I also recall the atmosphere in France during the French presidential election this year, in April. Eric Zemmour, a far-right French candidate, talked about “the great replacement” and the idea of immigrants coming to France in order to replace the current population. (The phrase has been used first to refer to Jews and now to Muslims and other minorities both in Europe and the US.) And yet, he received 2,485,226 votes and finished fourth out of 12 candidates in the first round of the presidential election.

More recently — 3 weeks ago to be precise — in Paris, a 12-year-old girl was violently killed by an Algerian resident. There were protests in Paris this week with large signs saying : “Immigration killed.” This crime was used to illustrate “this problem” by Marine Le Pen, another far-right French candidate. And yet, she nearly won the presidential race last April, placing second in the last round.

This simply is not true; most immigrants come to France because of international conflict or poor living conditions. Moreover, not all murderers are foreigners and, actually, immigrants helped build today’s France. Of course, not all French people behave like this and some can be incredibly friendly. However, racism remains a major issue in France, and seeing all of this hostility toward people from other countries always hurts me because as an Armenian  person living in France, my ancestors were immigrants.

Barbara Tellalian, member of “Friends of Armenian Heritage Park”, making a speech to welcome the new citizen, on Thursday October 20, Greenway, Boston.

That’s why, even if it took place in the United States and not in France, this serene and peaceful event changed me. I think the ongoing concern with and anger toward foreigners in France is similar to what is now happening in the United States. This type of acceptance ceremony is more crucial than ever to spread love.

(Mélanie Tuyssuzian, 22, is from Paris. She recently graduated with a degree in journalism from the European Institute of Journalism (IEJ) in Paris. SHe is an intern for the Mirror-Spectator.)

 

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