SALEM — While many Oregon politicians hail former Republican Gov. Tom McCall as their role model, Republican Rep. Julie Parrish idolizes former Gov. Victor Atiyeh, the nation's first Arab-American governor.
"Oregon had rich history … of welcoming immigrants," Parrish said.
The oft-rogue Republican from West Linn wanted to remind legislators and Oregonians of that important history when she suggested hosting a naturalization ceremony on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The ceremony was held in conjunction with Oregon's birthday and Valentine's Day Tuesday, Feb. 14, on the House floor.
Parrish was an infant when her Lebanese father was naturalized as a U.S. citizen. In 2011, she became the first known Arab-American woman to be elected to the state Legislature. "I had never been to a naturalization ceremony before," she said. (Parrish was three months old when her father took the oath of allegiance to the United States.)
In January, she attended a naturalization ceremony at a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services office in Portland, where Republican Dennis Richardson spoke as part of his first official event as the new secretary of state. Parrish ran Richardson's campaign against Democrat Brad Avakian, who was seen as the likely victor. "It's pretty impressive, pretty powerful," Parrish said of the naturalization ceremony. "At a time when the conversation around immigration is not very positive, this was an important opportunity to remind folks that we are a nation of immigrants.
"I thought legislators should see that and experience that."
Naturalization ceremonies had been hosted at the state Capitol in the past but were booked in basement, far from the public eye. Parrish and one of Richardson's staff members approached House Speaker Tina Kotek to get permission to hold the ceremony on the House floor. Kotek, D-Portland, agreed to host the ceremony to mark Oregon's 158th birthday, which coincides with Valentine's Day.
"That's the first time we have done one on the House floor," Kotek said. "We think it's a really important symbolic way of saying that everyone is welcome here in the state of Oregon."
Fifteen people were naturalized as U.S. citizens during the ceremony. They come from four countries: Mexico, China, the Philippines and Denmark, said Lindsey O'Brien, Kotek's spokeswoman.
Michael Hickman, Portland field office director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, conducted the oath of allegiance during the ceremony.
"I feel like it was a neat thing to have it on the state's birthday," Parrish said. "They were able to say not only am I an American citizen, I'm an Oregon citizen," Parrish said.