Northampton Fourth of July citizenship ceremony celebrates 48 new Americans

Last modified: Monday, July 06, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Seated beside her five-year-old son outside the Hampshire County Courthouse, Erika Calderon watched as her husband, Jose Serratos, became a naturalized United States citizen on Saturday, July 4.

“It’s a good opportunity to show people that we are here and we are legal now and we can vote,” Calderon, 42, of Athol, said of the event.

Calderon herself was naturalized in March. Both she and her husband, who is also 42, came to the United States from Mexico when they were teenagers, she said.

Serratos was one of 48 immigrants who participated in the naturalization ceremony, the seventh-annual event sponsored by the Northampton-based Center for New Americans.

Calderon said they came to the country for a better life, and for the educational opportunities present in America.

Sitting nearby, Estevao Moreira, 44, of Cape Verde said he was excited to become a citizen. He thanked the Center for New Americans for their help.

“They helped me a lot with my paperwork and with my English because I don’t have a good English, but they helped me a lot, and they gave me a chance to be a citizen,” said the Amherst resident.

Pittsfield resident Banchigize Tafet, 33, originally came from Ethiopia and has lived in the United States for nearly six years. She said she was glad to become a citizen.

“There is support to get education,” she said. “Where I come from, in my country, it’s really hard to go to school.”

Hanh Phung, originally of Vietnam, said she was so happy to become a U.S. citizen. She studied English at the Center for New Americans and worked to prepare for her citizenship interview with them. She has a three-year-old daughter and was trained as a pharmacist in her home country. She hopes to return to classes to improve her English and obtain the credentials to work as a pharmacist in the U.S.

Phung had much praise for her new country: “The freedom,” she said. “I love it; it is so beautiful. And I can vote.”

Light rain fell on and off during the event as those becoming citizens held miniature American flags. Evelyn Harris sang “America the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Russell Bradbury-Carlin, director of the Center for New Americans, offered remarks at the beginning of the event.

“This day has become my favorite day of the year,” he said. “Before I came to the Center for New Americans, I don’t think I truly appreciated what the Fourth of July is and what it really means.”

Watching immigrants become naturalized citizens has been a privilege, he said, and he urged all of the day’s new citizens to register to vote with the League of Women Voters, who staffed a booth at the event.

Mayor David Narkewicz, in his welcoming address, said he could not think of a better way to celebrate Independence Day than by participating in the naturalization ceremony.

Narkewicz said he is the grandson of immigrants from Poland, and that his wife had become a naturalized citizen at a similar event.

“Immigrants are the fabric of our nation and I want to personally welcome those who are taking the oath today to our community, to our nation,” he said.

Narkewicz encouraged those present not only to vote, but to engage with the democratic process in other ways, such as running for office, volunteering and participating in public debates.

“You bring a unique perspective, a unique experience, that will only add to our dialog and debate here in Northampton and across the nation,” he said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson presided over the event, and told the immigrants that the Fourth of July is a great day for them to start their journey as citizens.

“It’s the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,” she said. “That’s the day when the founders of our country said that all men — and now we’ve added all women — are created equal.”

Robertson listed off the new citizens’ 27 home countries — which, she noted, spanned from A to Z: Algeria, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Peoples Republic of China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Beyond participating in the American democratic process, Robertson encouraged those present to pay forward the help they received in becoming citizens.

“I know you had support from many sources... and I hope you’ll remember that support and help others the way you were helped to get to where you are sitting today,” she said.

The immigrants took the Oath of Allegiance before reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, each was called by name to receive a certificate of citizenship.

Pamela Wicinas, 57, and her daughter, Linden, 16, came from their home in Florence to watch the event even though they did not know any of the people receiving their citizenship.

Linden Wicinas recently returned from a year in the country of Oman.

“The freedom of speech here is incredible, and the education system,” she said. “There are obviously issues with everything in America, but they aren’t as prominent; it isn’t as hard to work through it here.”

Pamela Wicinas said she and her daughter had never been to the event before, but had heard it was very moving.

Their friends, Shana Sureck and Amy Horowitz, both 54 and of Florence, have attended for a few years.

“It’s really inspiring to see how hard people have worked, and how much it means to them to have citizenship — and I just feel like it’s nice to show up and be welcoming and supportive,” Horowitz said.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at


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