ITHACA, N.Y. – In a relatively small naturalization ceremony in a Tompkins County Courtroom on Wednesday afternoon, 12 people from nine different countries became citizens of the United States of America.
Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, China, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Peru, Austria, Sierra Leone and Uganda were the nine different countries from which the 12 who received their U.S. citizenship moved from.
“It’s a really happy day in the courthouse today,” said Tompkins County Legislator Deborah Dawson. “With adoptions and drug court graduation happening downstairs, and now a naturalization ceremony in this room, it’s a really happy day.”
Dawson, one of the first to speak at the ceremony, shared the story of her own grandparents, who arrived at Ellis Island 110 years ago with their four children, immigrating from Sicily to start a farm in Western N.Y.
“Only one of their 10 children went to college,” Dawson said. “My family embodies the promise of opportunity which brought many of you here to this ceremony today.”
As Dawson continued, she spoke to the crowd about the testing aspect of becoming a citizen.
“You’ve worked very hard to be here, and you probably now know more about American history and government than most who were born here,” she said.
One man, Damion Josephs, said the testing was one of the easier parts of becoming naturalized. When asked what brought him to Ithaca from Jamaica, Josephs motions to his family, his wife Yolanda sitting in the court pew beside him.
“For me, this process began in 2010,” Josephs said. “It took me four years to get here. It’s the waiting process, which is the worst part, getting here was harder than the tests.”
Between waiting for background checks in medical, criminal and work records, checking birth certificates, green cards and passports, Josephs said the 100-question test was smooth sailing compared to the process of getting to the U.S.
Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler also spoke at the event, sharing a story of an 18-month-old baby who was adopted from Nigeria by a family in Ithaca. The story he shared of a young man growing up, joining the army and becoming a chief of police was his own personal narrative, he shared later with the crowd.
“This was not a journey traveled alone, but with help from fellow citizens to make it happen,” Tyler said. “It certainly illustrates the American dream – that anything is possible if you work for it. There will always be challenges along your journey, but your fellow citizens in this great country will always be there to help you. I hope you are as excited as I am for you.”
Tompkins County Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne also spoke to the audience, reminiscing about her own naturalization ceremony in 1995.
“I remember the feeling of going through that oath and feeling like I was giving up a part of my life,” she said. “But later on I began to look at it differently – you leave family, friends and so much of your life behind. But, I wasn’t losing anything, I was gaining a whole new culture, language, and way of living. I see it as making me into a truly multicultural person.”
Wednesday’s ceremony was slightly more special for McBean-Clairborne, who has spoken at past ceremonies. She fought back tears while recognizing her friend and co-worker, Joy Onah, which was met with cheers from the crowd looking on.
“Joy, and the rest of you: welcome to the naturalized U.S. citizens club – it is a unique and empowering place.”