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Naturalization Ceremony

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Naturalization Ceremony
South Court Auditorium, The White House Complex 
Wednesday, July 1, 2020


Welcome to the White House!  What a treat it is to be here!  If anyone had told me that MY naturalization ceremony would be at the White House, I would have thought they were joking!   So, I hope you savor this very special day and this very special place. 

I came to America when I was 8 years old, and received my citizenship when I was 19 years old.  I still remember how relieved my family and I were when we finally received our citizenship.  It was as if we could finally relax! 

My family’s journey, I’m sure, is a familiar story to many of you.  My late mother, Ruth Mulan Chu, was born in Anhui province in China.  My father, Dr. James S. C. Chao, was born in a small farming village of 10 families outside of Shanghai.  They met during the turmoil of the Chinese Civil War.  

In 1949, at the height of the Civil War, they separately left their homeland.  After a two-year search, my father finally found her, convinced her parents to allow them to marry, and started a family together. My father became the youngest sea captain of his time at the age of 29.  But, it was difficult to be away at sea for months at a time.  In an effort to improve our family’s life, he took a national examination, scored #1, breaking all records, and this gave him the chance to come to America.  My mother was 7 months pregnant with their third child at the time, but she courageously supported his decision to seek a better life for us.  

Our young family was separated for 3 long years before my father could bring us to America.  We came onboard a cargo ship, because that was all he could afford.  The ocean journey took 37 days.  When our ship steamed into New York harbor, we were filled with happiness at the prospect of being reunited with my father, but also anxious about how we would fare in this new country.  

I think you will understand when I say that our initial years in America were very challenging.  We didn’t speak English, had no family or friends here, couldn’t get used to the food, nor  understand the customs here.   Our family of 5 lived in a small one-bedroom apartment.  My father held 3 jobs to make ends meet.  Every day, I sat in the classroom-- not understanding a word being said –  and copied everything on the blackboard into my notebook.  Every night, after a long day’s work, my father would review my notebook with me and translate the day’s lessons.  That’s how I learned English.  

Throughout those challenging early years, my parents never lost faith that America was the land of opportunity, and that our future would be bright.  They showed us by example that if we worked hard and never gave up, we could achieve anything.  

Each of you has your own story of coming to America – your stories form the great tapestry of American history.  I am here to affirm that your hard work and sacrifices are well worth it!  This is a wonderful country with so many opportunities.  Congratulations again on becoming an American citizen and being able to carry that precious blue passport when you travel!     

Now, let me introduce our featured speaker, Vice President Mike Pence.  He is a man of great faith, compassion, and experience, who- along with our Second Lady Karen Pence- has devoted his life to serving others.  He wanted to be here to welcome you, congratulate you and celebrate this great day with you.  Please join me in giving a rousing welcome to the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.