There it was: the headline, "Citizenship Is Responsibility," right on the front page in 30 point black letters. I can't remember the typeface but it caught the attention of readers. Following, in quotes, are the first and several paragraphs of the story, written by four members of the seventh-hour civics class.
"Are you a citizen? How and when did you become a citizen? Do you take citizenship for granted or do you appreciate it? Do you know when Citizenship Day is?
"Most people were born in the United States; therefore they are citizens from birth. Many people have immigrated to the United States and those people must be naturalized.
"These people that have come to the United States go through a lot of details to gain the rights that the citizens have now and which they should appreciate. To become naturalized, you have to learn many things. These include knowing how to read and write, knowing something about our history and government, knowing about the U.S. Constitution and taking citizenship seriously.
"People being naturalized must file a petition and are usually required to have been a resident of the United States for five years, and for the past six months of this period in that state where the petition is filed. This petitioner is required to furnish two citizens to testify in court regarding his residence, character, loyalty and other qualifications. When the court grants the petition, the applicant takes an oath of renunciation and allegiance. Every successful applicant who is admitted to citizenship receives a certificate of naturalization.
"Most citizens take citizenship for granted. Why, we bet a lot of you don't even know when Citizenship Day is. If you are a citizen, you have certain duties. Do you know what these are and do you do them? Do you keep up with the news of the country? Do you vote? Do you burn your draft card or do you go into service as asked? Are you honest? Think about this. These are just a few of the duties that you should do in return for the citizenship that is granted to you.
The story continues: "Tuesday, September 17, is Citizenship Day. In this article, we have told you about citizenship and how to be a good citizen, but only you can succeed in being one. Remember, a good citizen believes in God, Country and Self."
-- Written by freshmen Gail Anderson, Pat Boyd, Xollie Buffer and Becky Dugan, Gravette civics students.
Does this sound like today? The story was printed on September 25, 1968 -- 53 years ago. No doubt immigration laws have been changed or modified several times by Congress or by executive order, which sometimes worked out, such as during the Cuban or Vietnam immigration events, but somehow ...
About ten years ago, when several people from this area were seeking citizenship, they were given booklets (quite a few pages) to study facts and figures, cultural and legal requirements before taking an examination. I acquired one of the books and, as I read it, several times, I scratched my head until it came to me strongly: I/we citizens sometimes take our citizenship for granted.
Immigration has been part of our history and it is so the words on that monument, the Statue of Liberty, ring in our memory: "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..." They were not on the monument when it was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on October 26, 1886. The statue was created by a Frenchman, Frederic Bartholdi. The poem by American poet Emma Lazarus was added to a plaque in 1903. The statue, by the way, was a gift from France.
Something different today is the fact that more than a hundred years have passed. There were millions of acres available for settling in America under the Homestead Act of 1862. By 1871, more than 29,000 more migrants had arrived and, by 1900, the number of free tracts of land exceeded 699,000, some in nearby Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas and, yes, even in the Arkansas Ozarks. Where do immigrants settle now? Those who came lived hard and honest lives and contributed to the development of our nation. There were no handouts; they worked with their hands.
I feel deeply for those seeking better lives today in a different world. But the system, out of control, needs to be fixed, for their sake and for the sake of our nation. One question: Are they seeking citizenship? Another: Will they have to work for it, just as hard as the citizens of today?
Only time and truth have the answer. And our leaders have not found an answer. Humanity deserves one, soon.
'Till next time, something positive.
Dodie Evans is the former owner and long-time editor of the Gravette News Herald. Opinions expressed are those of the author.