52 new Americans from 29 countries take oath of citizenship
MIDDLETOWN — U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney presided over a recent naturalization ceremony in an unusual location.
Calling it a “beautiful, landmark day,” Carney admitted, “I don’t usually have chandeliers in court, so I’m delighted to be here for such a celebratory occasion” at the Middletown Elks Club’s Crystal Ballroom.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., state Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, and Common Councilman Gerald Daley were among dignitaries who gathered at 44 Maynard St. for the ceremony late last week.
“Perhaps the greatest responsibility new citizens have is to uphold the mantle of freedom, and live that dream that is the American experience,” Joseph M. Zackaricz, section chief of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Hartford, told close to 100 individuals in the audience.
In all, 52 people from 29 countries took the oath of allegiance. Because this year’s ceremony was dedicated to those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, representatives of the city’s numerous veterans groups filled the two front rows. They were joined by several dozen candidates, including four U.S. Army and two Marine Corps members, as well as their families and guest.
They were natives of Albania, American Samoa, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Kosovo, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Vietnam.
“Congratulations on your reaching this momentous milestone in your immigration journey,” Zackaricz said.
Middletown DAV Chapter No. 7 Commander John DiMauro led the new citizens and guests in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, the room grew silent as Coginchaug Regional High School senior student Kylie Toggio delivered a heartfelt rendition of the National Anthem as an American flag undulated on a television screen behind her.
“Our nation has welcomed millions of immigrants to our shores: immigrants who have a profound impact, not only on the United States of America, but on the world as well. Immigrants who have strengthened the very fabric of our nation with their contributions to American society and prosperity,” Zackaricz said.
“Generations of immigrants like you have come to this country, seeking a place where democracy is not just an ideal but a reality: where opportunities are available to everyone,” he added, urging those gathered to become active citizens and give back to the community.
Blumenthal, who spoke of his father, who in 1935 at 17 came alone to this country from Germany to escape persecution. “He had not much more than the shirt on his back. This country gave him a chance to succeed,” the state’s senior U.S. senator said. The soon-to-be Americans took a test that most other U.S. citizens could not pass, he added, as many laughed.
“Many of you came from long distances, over many miles and seas, and you will never take for granted becoming a U.S. citizen. When I look across this crowd, what I see is America: different races, opinions, walks of life, backgrounds that make us great. That’s our strength and our virtue,” Blumenthal said.
Lourdes Montalvo, director of state constituent services, spoke on behalf of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who had a last-minute meeting. “You are going to be out there, making others understand, especially the newer generation, the importance of voting, to get engaged, and the importance of making democracy work,” she said.
Daley stood in for Mayor Dan Drew, because he was out of town, he said, noting the Elks are particularly committed to serving young people and veterans.
Most of those gathered in the ballroom enjoy citizenship as a birthright, Daley said.
“You earned your citizenship. You chose to become citizens. It’s not about nationalism or ethnicity. It’s about ideals, principles and democratic values that we uphold, honor and advocate for, not a bloodline,” said Daley, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland.
In 1790, the first naturalization laws passed. For 225 years, taking the oath of allegiance has led to citizenship, Zackaricz said.
Amita Srivastava is a Trumbull resident born in India. “This calls for a celebration. I’m a citizen now,” said Srivastava, whose husband and children are naturalized.
William Currlin, the Elks chaplain in charge of the veterans committee, attended several of the prior ceremonies at City Hall, which took a two-year hiatus. He noticed cramped conditions in Council Chambers, and thought the ballroom would be a better, larger venue.
“It’s a heartwarming feeling to know these people want to be one of us,” said Currlin, who has asked to host the ceremony again in 2019. “Many people don’t realize you can be in the military and not be a citizen. “These guys are fast tracked when they are seeking citizenship. When I think of it, I get a tear in my eye,” he said.
Bristol resident Esraa Badewy, who came from Egypt, said she is proud to be an American.
“Already we have a new life, a new future. It’s so exciting,” said her husband Ahmed Abdelmawla.