On a cool, crisp autumn day, twenty-eight immigrants from countries like China, Haiti, Costa Rica, Colombia raised their right hands in Piers Park in East Boston and recited the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America thus becoming Naturalized U.S. Citizens.
The oath was administered Tuesday at the park by Judge Samantha Stoutenburg of the U.S. District Court as Mayor Thomas Menino, the wife of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Vicki Kennedy and other dignitaries looked on.
The site chosen was symbolic because the stretch of coastline on Marginal Street was once the entry point for hundreds of Irish and Italian immigrants that flooded Eastie during the 1800s and early 1900s.
With Vicki Kennedy as a guest speaker, Director of the Boston Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Denis Riordan invoked the Kennedy legacy in Eastie and the importance of the ground on which the new citizens stood.
Riordan talked about how the Kennedy’s story was no different than any other immigrant story that can still be found in the Italian delis of Meridian Street or the bodegas of Maverick Square. Like many of us in Eastie, the Kennedy family emigrated from a foreign country to seek the economic opportunity offered in America.
It all began in 1849 when Patrick Kennedy arrived in Eastie and married Bridget Murphy at the Most Holy Redeemer Church on Maverick Street. Both were poor Irish immigrants that struggled to raise their family here in the working class neighborhood. Neither had any idea that 150 years later their great grandson would be president of the most powerful country in the world.
“When President John F. Kennedy traveled back to New Ross, Ireland in June 1963 he spoke of his family’s immigrant story and said ‘When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great grandchildren have valued that inheritance,” said Riordan.
After the ceremony in the park, the group traveled to the Golden Stairs on Marginal Street, a place that was a symbol of the hope and possibilities of a new life in America. There, Vicki Kennedy made a few remarks to the new citizens after they received their Naturalization Certificates.
The Kennedy roots here was something treasured by Vicki’s husband, Sen. Ted Kennedy, until the time of his death.
In the reception room of his Senate office in Washington, Sen. Kennedy had a picture of Meridian Street in East Boston with an arrow pointing to the apartment where his grandfather (P.J. Kennedy) lived and his father (Joseph P. Kennedy) was born.
“It is a proud reminder of the immigrant heritage of our family and the neighborhood where my father grew up,” Kennedy once remarked.
During his first congressional campaign in 1946, John Kennedy spent a lot of time engaging workers on the docks of Eastie that are now Piers Park.
It was on these streets that a young Ted Kennedy walked with his mother’s father, former Mayor of Boston John ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald, another Eastie native.
“I feel the same way as my brother because of the special times I had with my grandfather when I was young,” Sen. Kennedy said in 2003. “Honey Fitz made sure to take me with him when he went for walks in all the old neighborhoods where our families once lived. He would take me to East Boston and we’d go in all the shops to greet the owners. He knew everyone by name and taught me to respect the work they did.”