ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Courthouse was a joyful place for 34 people from 16 different countries who became new U.S. citizens Wednesday afternoon. The main courtroom was packed with people there to see their friends and family members take the Oath of Allegiance and become naturalized citizens.

“Every one of us has a story,” said Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson. “Every one of you has a story and you are going to enrich our community, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome you. Good luck as American citizens.”

Robertson welcomed the crowd Wednesday and said the community’s acceptance of immigrants is one of the best things about Tompkins County. She wished the 34 newly naturalized U.S. citizens good luck and assured them that they will make America and Tompkins County a better place. 

Dr. Orinthia Montague, president of Tompkins Cortland Community College, said getting to this moment of naturalization is a great accomplishment.   

“Whatever your journey that brought you here for whatever reason, and whatever your hopes are for the future, your arrival in this very place at this very moment is a tremendous accomplishment. There are so many ways you can view this moment in your life. It’s a transition, possibly a challenge, definitely an accomplishment, and the beginning of a new and bright future,” she said.

Montague, who said she moved to the U.S. with her parents from Jamaica when she was 3 years old, welcomed the newly naturalized group as official U.S. citizens. “I also want to say welcome. You’ve already been in this country for various periods of time, so this makes it official: you are American.” 

Montague concluded by assuring the newly naturalized U.S. citizens that they are important to the future of this country. “This country now depends on you. It depends on your vision and your strength. This is the beginning of your America story — the new story of America.” 

Supreme Court Judge Joseph McBride presided over Wednesday’s ceremony. Local musicians London McDaniels and Uniit Carruyo performed “Both Sides Now” and “Change Is Gonna Come.” 

Some of the newly naturalized citizens said this has been a longtime dream and they were happy to finally call themselves American. Maria Ecquard, one of the naturalized citizens Wednesday, was born in Portugal and said she has been married to her American husband for 25 years and said it was time to seek citizenship herself.

Chisela Ng’oma receives her certificate after being naturalized as a U.S. citizen. (Photo by J.T. Stone/The Ithaca Voice)
Chisela Ng’oma receives her certificate after being naturalized as a U.S. citizen. (Photo by J.T. Stone/The Ithaca Voice)

Chisela Ng’oma, who moved to the U.S. from Zambia when her father found work, said she was excited to finally have the right to influence politics in the country she has lived in for most of her life. “It means a lot. I’ve been in the U.S. for about 11 years now so to finally be a citizen and use my voice to influence what I can in policy and in politics is very meaningful.”

Laura Figueroa, who moved to the U.S. from Colombia when her parents found work locally, shared the sentiment of wanting to make her voice heard in the political system.

“I think given the political climate in the U.S. and given the fact that I live here, I needed to have my voice be heard and to vote and be a part of positive change in this country,” Figueroa said.

Featured image by J.T. Stone/Ithaca Voice 

J.T. Stone

J.T. Stone is a contributor for The Ithaca Voice and a 2020 graduate of Ithaca High School. Questions? Story tips? Email him at jt22stone@gmail.com.