Thank you, Andrea, for that introduction and your great work here in New York to expand our American family and strengthen our nation. And to my fellow citizens, congratulations! Felicidades, as we say in Spanish.
I know the journey has been long. And for some of you, it probably felt like this day would never come. But you've studied hard. You've worked hard. And you've taken a sacred oath. You already felt like Americans in your hearts and in your minds. And today, you are Americans on paper, too.
It's such an honor for me to be in New York with you to share in this special moment, just two days before we celebrate Independence Day. What a special time to take your oath of citizenship and pledge allegiance to the flag. For the rest of your lives, you'll be able to celebrate your anniversary as citizens with fireworks.
You're such an exceptional and diverse group. In this room, we have new citizens from 18 different countries all over the world. You probably already know that we're gathered today in an historic building. It's where America's first President, George Washington, said "farewell" to our troops at the end of the Revolutionary War. But today, we're here to say "welcome"--welcome to you, our newest Americans who've sworn to protect and defend our Constitution. You're now part of this country's history, too. I hope you're as proud of yourselves as we are of you.
I know each of you has a unique story and unique contributions you'll bring to our democracy. But one thing that binds you together is that you've all come to this country in search of a better life. And, my fellow citizens, you can have it!
I'm the daughter of immigrants. I was the first member of my family to go to college. And thanks to President Obama, I'm the first Latina to ever lead a major agency in a President's cabinet. I'm living proof that anything is possible in this great country we love.
I know many of you took a class to learn about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Well, here's something you may not know about me: I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for an American citizenship class. I don't mean I wouldn't be here in New York today giving a speech. I mean, I wouldn't be here, period. My parents met--and fell in love--in an American citizenship class. So I owe the naturalization process so very much. It gave birth to my family.
My mother immigrated to this country from Nicaragua. She raised seven children. My father grew up in Mexico. He worked as a farm worker, a railroad worker and a factory worker to give his family opportunities he never had. We grew up in a working-class neighborhood outside of Los Angeles. We grew up in the shadows of polluted landfills and toxic dumps. My parents and my friends' parents went to work in conditions that were dirty and unsafe. Though our family could not afford much, we always had each other. Like many immigrant families, my parents made many sacrifices so we could achieve whatever our talents would allow.
Mom and Dad raised me to believe in the American Dream. They raised me to believe that if you worked hard and gave something back, you could do anything. As your Labor Secretary, I'm fighting every day in Washington to preserve that dream. And today, President Obama and I are asking for your help.
We're asking you to exercise your new freedoms: to stay informed, respect your neighbors, express yourself, become an active participant in your democracy, and above all, exercise your right to vote!
My hero, President John F. Kennedy, once famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Today, what you can do for your country is contribute your talents. Our economy needs your skills, your ambition and your work ethic.
I know many of you are already doing this. In this room, we have citizens who are raising families and citizens who are going to college. We have citizens who work in finance and citizens who work in restaurants. We have citizens who care for sick people and citizens who work for the United Nations. Each of your contributions is important. Each of you matter.
The face of the American labor force is changing. It looks like you. It looks like me. It looks like all of us.
So I want to challenge you today to make a difference. Keep working hard. Keep moving up that ladder. Keep pursuing all of the opportunities and joys that life as an American citizen has to offer.
We're expecting big things from you. And I know you won't let us down. So enjoy this moment. Enjoy this day. And enjoy this special opportunity to make an incredible life in the greatest nation on Earth. God bless, you. God bless your families. And God bless the United States of America.