California’s Robert Garcia says the superhero embodies values like truth and justice
Congressman Robert Garcia had Superman by his side at his swearing-in ceremony on Saturday. And in addition to the classic bright blue and red suit, the superhero wore a protective Mylar covering and traveled with a Capitol Police escort.
A self-described “comic book nerd,” Garcia borrowed the first issue of the superhero’s comic book series from the Library of Congress for the occasion, which had been delayed four days by the prolonged speaker of the House election.
The comic was one of several items Garcia chose to swear his oath of office on, including a copy of the Constitution, his citizenship certificate and a photo of his parents, who both died from Covid-19 in 2020.
Will be proudly sworn-in to Congress on the U.S. Constitution. Underneath the Constitution will be 3 items that mean a lot to me personally. A photo of my parents who I lost to covid, my citizenship certificate & an original Superman #1 from the @librarycongress. pic.twitter.com/YGW43OLsIp
Garcia, a California democrat, is the first LGBTQ immigrant to serve in Congress. He moved to the United States from Lima, Peru, when he was 5 years old.
“I learned to read and write English [by] reading comics as a kid,” he tells BuzzFeed News’ Pocharapon Neammanee. “Never stopped reading.”
The new congressman says he feels a special connection to Superman. The character signifies “truth and justice, an immigrant that was different, was raised by good people that welcomed them,” he tells CNN’s Zoe Sottile. “If you look at Superman values, and caucus values, it’s about justice, it’s about honesty, it’s doing the right thing, standing up for people that need support.”
“Superman No. 1,” the issue Garcia chose for his ceremony, was published in 1939. NPR’s Glen Weldon writes that it was the first comic book focused on just one character, and it features a Superman who “didn’t reinforce the status quo, he upended it, again and again.” Not yet nicknamed “Man of Steel,” the superhero was instead called “Champion of the Oppressed.”
The Library of Congress doesn’t typically lend out the early Superman comic due to its “value and rarity,” per CNN. The library was, however, able to bring it to Garcia to hold during his swearing-in ceremony, after which an employee returned the Mylar-covered book to the library, accompanied by a police escort.
The Library of Congress often provides special editions of religious texts for lawmakers’ swearing-in ceremonies. At his first inauguration, Barack Obama took the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible. When Keith Ellison, now Minnesota’s attorney general, became the first Muslim member of Congress in 2007, he was sworn in on a copy of the Qur’an owned by Thomas Jefferson.
Garcia’s unique selection was perfectly legal. Though Bibles and other religious texts are common sights at a swearing-in ceremonies, “there is no required text upon which an incoming officeholder must take their oath,” Jane Campbell, president of the United States Capitol Historical Society, tells BBC News’ Brandon Drenon. In fact, the Constitution specifically forbids the use of a “religious test” to hold office in the U.S.
Instead, lawmakers and others are free to request texts or objects that have personal meaning. At his inauguration in 2021, Joe Biden used a Bible that had been in his family since the late 1800s.
Others who, like Garcia, didn’t use religious texts include John Quincy Adams, who read his presidential oath from a volume of law in 1825, as well as Theodore Roosevelt, who had nothing in hand when he was hastily sworn in as president in 1901 after William McKinley’s assassination.
Now that he’s sworn in, Garcia is eager to get down to business. “The American people deserve a government who works for them, and now I can finally get to work for the people of California,” he says, per City News Service.
And Superman is safely back on his shelf at the library, ready to be called upon the next time the country needs him.
Editor’s note, January 12, 2023: This story has been updated to clarify details regarding Adams’ and Roosevelt’s swearing-in ceremonies.
Teresa Nowakowski is an intern for Smithsonian magazine.