In the week before Independence Day, Leïla Ennaïli found it fitting to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen at Comerica Park in Detroit.
The native of France is an associate professor of French at Central Michigan University. She joined 32 others in taking the Oath of Allegiance in a ceremony before the Detroit Tigers game June 27.
Taking the oath amid cheers from the baseball crowd felt like the beginning of a new chapter in her life.
"I did not originally understand that Comerica would temporarily be a federal courthouse for my ceremony and that there would be so many people to witness the event," Ennaïli joked. 'I was happy to share this moment with other newly naturalized citizens on the field. It was rather moving to see people in the stands welcome us wholeheartedly."
A fitting time and place
More than 15,000 new citizens across the U.S. will take their oath at Fourth of July-themed ceremonies this week through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"As a French person who knows a little about the heritage of Michigan, I think it is fitting that I became a citizen in a city founded by Frenchman Antoine de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, 316 years ago," Ennaïli said. "Détroit — a French word meaning 'the straits' — felt particularly appropriate for me."
Ennaïli came to the U.S. in 2003 and has lived as a permanent resident for seven years. She received her Ph.D. in French studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 2011, the same year she started teaching at CMU. She married Bryan Whitledge, an archivist in CMU's Clarke Historical Library, in 2009.
"It became clear to me that I would spend the rest of my life here," Ennaïli said. "It is very important to me to be able to participate in the democratic process by voting, and I am very excited at the prospect of being an engaged citizen."
Diversity and the American way
Being French always will be the foundation of who she is, but Ennaïli said she also has developed an American identity.
"I am just one part of diversity that we all bring to this country," she said. "That diversity is a valuable asset for the United States."
Ennaïli's research at CMU focuses on immigration in France and illegal immigration in the French context. She expects her journey to American citizenship will influence her research and teaching.
"When I teach courses about immigrants in France, I will definitely highlight how the random and arbitrary nature of one's birth dictates a lot about how they will live and what their immigration process will be like, if they ever have one," Ennaïli said. "I think it is good to remind our students at CMU, particularly those born in the U.S., how fortunate they are just by virtue of the location of their birth.
"Our students should be aware that many people around the world struggle in ways we cannot imagine to make a better life for themselves," she said.
Learn more about CMU's Department of World Languages and Cultures.