22 immigrants becomes U.S. citizens at Rockwell Museum

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STOCKBRIDGE -- Amid tears, cheers and whoops of joy, 22 Berkshire County residents gained U.S. citizenship at an emotional naturalization ceremony held at the Norman Rockwell Museum on Saturday, co-hosted by the Pitts field-based Berkshire Immi grant Center.

Presiding over the 45-minute special event attended by at least 100 relatives, friends, political leaders and area residents was Berkshire County District Judge Fredric D. Rutberg, who had been sworn in as a judge in the same gallery of the museum in 1994.

Rutberg administered the oath of allegiance to the group of 22, who responded in unision, line by line.

Speaking against the backdrop of Stockbridge resident Rockwell's famed 1943 "Four Freedoms" paintings depicting President Franklin D. Roosevelt's ideals of American democracy, museum Executive Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt described "an historic, life-changing event" for the 22 applicants and urged them to always exercise their right to vote "as one of the great privileges of citizenship."

"We're all children of immigrants ... and we're proud of your hard work and dedication," said Moffatt.

"It does take courage and hard work," said Dennis Rear don, representing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, along with supervisor Joseph S. Forte.

The newly minted citizens represented 16 nations at the first swearing-in event held in the county since 2002. It was also a first for the museum.

Berena Smith of Pittsfield, a German immigrant who co-owns Cakewalk Bakery in Lee with her husband, Brian, awaited the swearing-in with their 19-month-old son, Colin.

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"It's a very important day for me," she told The Eagle. "I live here, I feel part of the country, so today feels a natural step. My husband and my son are both U.S. citizens, so it's important for me as a family."

"This is a great day for Berkshire County, for the Rockwell museum and for all of you, and it's a great day for me," declared Rutberg after the 22 new citizens had been sworn in.

"Our daily fare and our dockets are filled with human misery, that's just the way it is," he said. "It's so rare for a judge to preside over an event where everyone is happy. The Norman Rockwell Museum has a huge place in my heart. It's hard to imagine a more appropriate place to receive the Oath of Allegiance."

As Rutberg put it, after discussing the history surrounding Rockwell's paintings, "these four freedoms are alive and powerful today in this country, in our community and in this room. Short of the Capitol Rotunda in Wash ington, I can't conceive of a more perfect place for this ceremony to occur."

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He also asserted that "it's axiomatic, at least it should be, that the fabric of Amer ican society is strengthened by the addition of immigrants who add vitality to our culture."

Rutberg declared that "our culture both locally and nationally is enhanced and enriched by the new languages, tastes, music, art and other things that immigrants bring to our shores."

"Because of you and others like you," he said, "this great nation's future becomes brighter and it becomes an even better place for all of its citizens to live and work. I as a beneficiary of that diversity wish to say, thank you for coming to America."

Gov. Deval Patrick offered congratulations "to my fellow Americans. It is incredibly exciting, beautiful and, for me, and for others in this room, extradordinarily moving to join you today."

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He cited "your own sacrifice, hard work, extraordinary effort and heavy lift that each of you in your own way, and your families, have made to come to this country, and also to be reminded of the beauty, value and extraordinary mystery of being American citizens."

"We get the government we deserve," he told the group, "and one of your responsibilities is to show up, to be engaged, to care about the outcome of government.

"That means voting, getting involved in your community, commenting and offering all that your own life's perspective brings to make us a richer and better, more prosperous and above all, more just community, commonwealth and nation."

Among the new citizens was Stephen Lawrence, originally from New Delhi, India, who arrived in the U.S. 14 years ago. A Williamstown resident and co-owner of the Spice Root restaurant, he said "it's a very, very special day for my life. It means to me a lot."

Leela Echapuram, a Pitts field resident and rergistered nurse at Berkshire Medical Center who arrived from India in 2006, said "the ceremony means a lot to me, more freedom."

Kimberley Wilson, from Toronto, Canada, now a sales consultant based in Pittsfield, said her new citizenship means "more freedom, more opportunity, better health care than Canada. I've wanted to live in the U.S. since I was a child, so this is a wonderful day for me."

Goundo Behanzin, from the West African nation of Benin on the Ivory Coast, arrived in 1994, lives in Pittsfield and owns the Berkshire Inter national Market on North Street. He said, "it's a great day for me, to be able to participate in all activities, to vote, that's very important."

In addition to Gov. Patrick, other leaders attending the standing-room only event were State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, State Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.


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