A dream fulfilled: Forty-nine new citizens take oath at annual Northampton ceremony

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 07-04-2023 3:12 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Samuel Solano first arrived in the United States as a boy in 1971, seeking a better life for himself in America. Fifty-two years later and now in his mid-60s, he held up his right hand in the historic Hampshire County Courthouse on Tuesday, and took the “oath of allegiance” as one of the country’s newest citizens.

“As a young man, I wasn’t thinking about it [citizenship] because I got comfortable living in this country. I felt like I was a part of this country and still feel like a part of this country,” said Solano, who was born in the Dominican Republic and now lives in Chicopee. “But I have my kids who were born here, and they asked me ‘Dad, everybody in your family is a citizen. Why don’t you become a citizen?’”

Solano is one of 49 immigrants who officially became American citizens — fittingly on the Fourth of July — in a ceremony held indoors at the old historic courthouse. The new citizens originate from 25 different countries across six continents, but on this day they would all become an official part of the United States.

Now in its 15th year, the naturalization ceremony is organized by the Center for New Americans, a nonprofit that provides education and resources for immigrants and refugees in western Massachusetts, in partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Members of Northampton chapter of the League of Women Voters were also present to help the country’s newest citizens register to vote.

“Your persistence, your hard work and your belief in America’s ideals give us hope for this country’s future,” Laurie Millman, executive director of the Center for New Americans, said during the ceremony. “We know that one reason many of you want to become a U.S. citizen is because you want to vote, you want your voice to be heard.”

Elected officials attending the event included state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra. Sciarra told the packed courthouse room that taking part in the ceremony is one the greatest honors of being mayor.

“I believe fully and completely this country’s greatest strength comes from being a nation of immigrants,” Sciarra said. “That you have worked so hard to be here in the United States inspires me to work as hard as I can every day to protect and expand the rights that you strove so hard to earn.”

United States District Court Clerk Rob Farrell administered the “oath of allegiance,” with all new citizens declaring they will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic, and bear true faith and allegiance to that same constitution.

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Following the oath, the 49 gathered were formally admitted as citizens by U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson.

“Every year, naturalized citizens make contributions that enrich and strengthen our society and our democracy,” Robertson said. “Becoming a citizen requires a lot of work. It often requires difficult personal choices and challenges adapting to new circumstances. And today we’re celebrating the choice you made and your commitment to our country.”

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a journey that includes completing the application, traveling to a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Office for biometrics, studying U.S. history and civics, and participating in an interview with an immigration officer.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, the formal admittance of citizenship was followed by the pledge of allegiance, as well as a performance of the national anthem and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” by Evelyn Harris. Many of the group of new citizens waved small American flags and celebrated joyfully upon receiving their official certifications of U.S. citizenship.

For Roselyn Kimathi, a Holyoke resident who first immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya 15 years ago, it was a day of happiness and excitement to finally become a citizen.

“I came here for a better future,” she said. “It’s good to have a voice. Finally, I can vote.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.]]>