‘A very long journey’: Twenty-one residents become newly minted citizens at Amherst naturalization ceremony

  • Benetta Jovita Bestman stands with 20 others who cited the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony in Amherst on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lang Phu, 73, of Amherst, holds the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance as part of a naturalization ceremony in Amherst on Friday. Above, Benetta Jovita Bestman stands with 20 others who cited the Oath of Allegiance during the ceremony. STAFF PHOTOs/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bo Mitaszka and Benetta Jovita Bestman cite the Oath of Allegiance during the naturalization ceremony in Amherst Friday morning, Oct. 1, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2021 5:08:37 PM

AMHERST — Many sleepless nights preparing for her citizenship test and worrying over whether she would pass it paid off for Lang Phu on Friday morning.

Just a block from her home in downtown Amherst, Phu, 73, who works in food services at the University of Massachusetts, joined 20 other state residents in swearing the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony on the front lawn of the Jones Library.

“I am very happy,” Phu said as the ceremony, held under cloudless blue skies, ended.

Accompanied by her daughter, Binh Truong, who herself earned American citizenship in 2014, and posing for photographs near a large American flag, Phu said she was scared about what the test would entail, even though she has been in the country for six years, the past three in Amherst.

Phu achieved her success and skills by studying at the English as a Second Language program at the Jones Library.

“She came here almost every day to make sure she passed the test,” said Lynne Weintraub, the ESL coordinator.

Judge Michael Ponsor of the U.S. District Court in Springfield presided over the naturalization oath ceremony, declaring that, “You are all, now, United States citizens. Congratulations.”

The ceremony was the second held in Amherst, following one inside the Jones in 2019, and came from appeals from Weintraub, who said she would like the event to become an annual occasion, similar to how Northampton hosts one each Independence Day.

Weintraub said the Jones Library is an appropriate site as the program she has overseen for 36 years, housed in the building, has 100 volunteer tutors who teach English, U.S. culture and citizens preparation.

“They work really hard, they show a lot of persistence, they show a lot of courage,” Weintraub said.

Lynn Griesemer, president of the Amherst Town Council, observed that this marked the third ceremony she has been part of, the first being a more personal experience when her son was naturalized following his adoption from Russia.

“This is a great day, a great day for you, a great day for our country,” Griesemer said. She asked that the new citizens bring their customs and rituals.

State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, also appreciated the new citizens. “We’re so glad you’re here. We need everything you bring to the community,” Domb said.

Theresa Ababio, who arrived in Worcester from Ghana in 2016, was joined by her daughter and brother at the event. She said there were many processes to go through before swearing the oath.

“It was a very long journey. Not easy,” Ababio said.

Those processes include submitting a 10-page application, paying a $680 application fee, going through an FBI criminal records check and appearing for a personal background interview, in English, at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.

All have been approved by an examiner who determines the students can speak, read and write English, know the fundamentals of U.S. history and government, and meets the legal qualifications for citizenship

Ponsor read off the names of the home countries of the new citizens, which in addition to Vietnam and Ghana included Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jordan, Liberia, Nicaragua, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela.

Prior to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, an academic lecturer at Amherst College originally from Ghana, Ponsor encouraged everyone to register to vote.

“Our nation depends on making your voices heard,” Ponsor said. 

Ababio said she is gratified that she will be able to participate in American democracy. 

“So now I’ll be able to vote,” Ababio said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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