Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Welcome, Little Citizens!

By C.J. Hirschfield

Given Children’s Fairyland’s prime location, whimsical setting and talented professional staff, we get pitched all the time by individuals, companies and all sorts of entities. Sometimes, as when a marijuana dispensary wanted to host a holiday party that included smoking tents, we politely turn down the request, saying it isn’t “Fairylandish,” a word we use to evoke our strong brand, which is authentic, non-cynical, playful and low tech.

But occasionally we’ll be presented with an offer we just can’t refuse, because it is so brilliantly—and obviously—Fairylandish. And that is why, on the first day of August, 20 children ages 3 to 9, from nine countries, will receive their United States citizenship papers onstage in our park.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ San Francisco Field Office approached us with the proposal, explaining that while adults and teens typically have ceremonies dedicated to them, it’s far less common for the younger kids to have a celebration of their own. Oakland’s Paramount Theatre holds naturalization ceremonies every two weeks; at one recent event more than 1,000 new citizens were sworn in there. I observed one of these ceremonies a few years ago, and was moved to tears.

The truth is, the children who will participate in Fairyland’s ceremony are already U.S. citizens, a status conferred when their parents were naturalized. But this special program is designed just for them. In addition to USCIS Field Office Director Robin Barrett, who will administer the Oath of Allegiance, we will be featuring local youth counselor and stand-up comic-turned-inspirational speaker Michael Pritchard. Known for his elastic face and his work in anti-bullying programs, he was the star and subject of the documentary film Happy.

Fairyland's Jack and Jill Hill will present no  language barrier to the 20 children from nine countries who will be sworn in as U.S. citizens at Children’s Fairyland August 1

After taking the oath and receiving their certificates, the children, along with their family members, will enjoy a full day at Fairyland—on us. We’re happy to bring that experience to the party. We’re in the memory-making business, after all, and we take our role very seriously. We have to assume that some of these kids’ memories involve difficult transitions. We can offer some quality family time where all can enjoy the innocence of childhood. Whether they’re from Albania, China, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam or Yemen, I can guarantee you that when they encounter our Jack and Jill Hill and a piece of cardboard, the kids will know exactly what to do. No language or culture barrier there.

Last week we heard quite a bit about why we should fear immigrants and build a wall to keep some of them out. But at noon on Aug. 1 Children’s Fairyland will hang a banner that says “Welcome” in nine languages. We are thrilled to invite these new young citizens to the land of the free … and to the Fairyland of their imaginations.

-- C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children's Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation's first storybook theme park.

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