Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Dr. Tatjana Lichtenstein on her "Path to American Citizenship"

Wed, January 31, 2018
Dr. Tatjana Lichtenstein on her
Prof. Lichtenstein receives her citizenship certificate
(Reposted from the UT Department of History website)

Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies & History faculty member Tatjana Lichtenstein became an American citizen last week, on Thursday January 25, 2018. The naturalization ceremony, where she and over 270 other aspiring Americans took the Oath of Allegiance, was held at the Institute for Texan Cultures in San Antonio. The presiding immigration officer had asked Dr. Lichtenstein to share her path to citizenship with the other new Americans and their families and friends. In her speech, which you may watch here (full transcript below), she reflected on why she became a historian and how her work teaching and mentoring students inspired her to become an American citizen.  

 

"My Path to American Citizenship"
By Tatjana Lichtenstein, Associate Professor of History, and
Director, Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies

“Thank you for being here today; it is a great honor for me to be here and to share my path to American citizenship with you.
 
Being an immigrant has always been part of my story.  More than 50 years ago, my parents left their home country in search of a better life.  They ended up in the small country of Denmark in northern Europe.  And its small: if you take a map and draw a line connecting Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio – well, Denmark fits within that triangle – and its population is less than those three cities combined.  Like many European countries, Denmark did not have a tradition for welcoming immigrants.  It was not part of the country’s DNA.  My strange name, my parents’ accent, and our different foods made me stand out.  I was a foreigner despite having been born there.  Even though we were citizens, my family didn’t quite belong; didn’t really feel at home.
 
Perhaps because I had this feeling of being different, I developed a fascination with history very early in my life.  Much like you and I have personal histories - experiences that we can point to as having shaped us – communities and societies also have stories that define them.  To me the past is the key to understanding who we are as individuals and as community members.  By the time I graduated from high school, I had decided that I wanted to become a professional historian, a teacher and researcher.  After finishing my undergraduate degree in Denmark, I left to do my doctorate in History in Canada.  
 
There is a lot of history! And much like medical doctors have a specialty, historians do, too.  My specialization is war and violence in the twentieth century, specifically the Second World War.  Let me say just a few words about that war – and I promise I won’t give a lecture – but just a few words because it important to me as I become an American citizen.  
 
Like other wars, the Second World War was about power.  But it was also about something different, something much more important.  In that war, the United States joined a coalition of countries to fight Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.  In December 1941, when America joined the fight, Germany had destroyed states, enslaved, uprooted, and murdered millions of people.  German leaders had begun this evil by attacking their own citizens.  Now they were looking to oppress and displace millions more.  So when the US and its Allies defeated Nazi Germany, they didn’t just defeat a state.  What Americans on the home front and the battlefront defeated was a regime that perpetrated crimes against humanity on an unprecedented scale.  At the core of its evil was the rejection of every person’s right to freedom and dignity.
 
As I mentioned at the start, in my birth country I felt like an outsider.  This created a certain kind of restlessness.  Perhaps you have felt it too?  That desire to do something different.  That urge to spread your wings and see how high you can go.  And, not least, to see what the view is like!  
 
Let me tell you about my view:
 
Over eight years ago, I started my job as a professor teaching history at the University of Texas at Austin.  It is a great privilege to be a teacher and a mentor to my students.  And my experience with them is what has inspired me to become an American citizen.  
 
Every Spring I travel with students to Europe to study WWII sites.  One of our stops is the American military cemetery on the coast of Normandy.   It is a solemn, beautiful place overlooking Omaha Beach where thousands of young American soldiers were killed during the D-Day invasion.  These brave Americans who got out on that beach were young people, my students’ age.  Their gravestones list name, rank, date of death, and home state.  Together with my students, we place yellow roses on the graves of soldiers from Texas.  It is very moving for all of us.  And for me those graves have special meaning.  The names of America’s fallen are Spanish, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, English, and the list goes on.  These men and women had such different backgrounds, but they were united as Americans.  They were the resistance to the violation of human dignity at the core of that war.
 
Those Americans then, and our friends and neighbors today, embody what is so unique about the United States: a generosity of spirit, a commitment to country and community, and a profound respect for our unique legal and political institutions.  I feel ready and proud to take on the responsibilities of citizenship, of serving my community and my country.  I am grateful and mindful of my rights as a citizen.  But for me becoming an American citizen is so much more.  There, at those graves – and in my years living in Austin and traveling across the Southwest – I have come to feel an embrace, a welcome, a sense that I belong in America.  I spread my wings and I love the view!  For the first time in my life, I feel at home.  
 
Thank you for your time and attention.”

 

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