Secretary Elaine Chao


Remarks to Naturalization Ceremony

Congratulations on becoming full fledged Americans! 

Thank you for allowing me to join you on your very special day. 

Like you, I am an immigrant to this country and I know how you must feel on this very special day because I can still remember how I felt when I received my American citizenship many years ago. 

As you may guess, I am an American of Chinese descent.  My parents, Ruth and James, left China at the peak of the Civil War and immigrated to Taiwan where they had to start a new life.   

When I was five years old, and my mother was seven months pregnant with my younger sister, my father took a national examination, scored #1 and broke all the previous records.  Because of this achievement, he was able to immigrate to America to seek a better life for all of us.  But, we couldn’t go with him.  So, we waited behind.

Three long years passed before my father was finally able to bring us to America.  We didn’t come by airplane; he couldn’t afford that.  We came to America on a cargo ship and the ocean journey took 37 days.

My sister was already three years old before my father met her for the first time in America. 

Needless to say, our initial years in America were very difficult.  We didn’t speak the language, couldn’t eat the food, didn’t understand the culture, and didn’t have any family or friends here.  Our little family of five lived in a small one-bedroom apartment.  My father worked 3 jobs to make ends meet. 

I remember how terrifying it was at times to be in this strange new country where we didn’t know whether we would ever get our citizenship or be able to fit in. 

We had to wait another 11 years to receive our citizenships so I was 19 before I became a naturalized American citizen. 

When we finally received our American citizenship, I remember the tremendous sense of relief; it was like finally being able to exhale. 

Throughout those years of adversity, my parents’ faith, optimism, determination, and belief in America’s promise of opportunity and the decency of the American people helped us overcome so many obstacles. 

When my family and I first arrived in America, our goal was so modest – we simply wanted our little family to survive. 

Little did we know then, that I would have the life and career I’ve had:  be the Director of the Peace Corps, President and CEO of United Way of America, the first Asian American woman ever to be appointed to a President’s cabinet in American history.  Or, that I would be the first Kentucky woman to be serve in the Cabinet of the United States President. 

As you begin your life as new citizens, I want to commend you for your courage and belief in America in coming to this country to start a better life for you and your family! 

I shared my story with you not to boast but to reassure you that all your hardwork and sacrifices have been worth it and that you and your family will have so many opportunities to look forward to in this wonderfully open and generous country.
Your contributions help to make America the rich diverse country that it is today! 

Finally, I also want to send the greetings of my husband, Senator Mitch McConnell, without whom my life would not be complete.  If my parents hadn’t come to America, I would never have met the love of my life!  Mitch is a great supporter of women and of the invaluable contributions immigrants make to America.  I could not have achieved what I’ve been able to achieve without him. 

Congratulations again.  You are now citizens of the greatest country in the world.