America grows stronger with 21 new citizens: 'We are more alike than we are different'
STOCKBRIDGE — There were as many stories at the annual Naturalization Ceremony at the Norman Rockwell Museum on Saturday as there were people who were naturalized.
That would be 21 new Americans, from 17 countries, five continents and 10 Western Mass. communities, according to Brooke Mead, Director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center. In addition to the 21 news citizens, there were about 100 family members and friends looking on and cheering when the swearing-in ceremony was complete.
Diane Robinson of South Hadley and Ferdinand Forbes of Springfield are both from Jamaica. They didn't know each other in Jamaica, but when they relocated to western Mass., they became friends.
On Friday night, Robinson hosted a party celebrating her Saturday citizenship. She notified Forbes.
Forbes indicated he might come. Then he asked, "So what are you doing Saturday?"
Diane told him.
"And he said, 'That's where I'm going!' And we had a laugh", said Robinson.
"It's an honor," said Forbes after the ceremony. "It's something I've wanted for a long time."
Oksana Andriievskyi, of Westfield, is originally from Ukraine. She has been in the United States since the age of 12. She was standing in the Four Freedoms rotunda of the Rockwell Museum.
As she was spelling her name for a reporter, her husband, Ruslan looked over the reporter's shoulder.
"No," said Ruslan, "two i's. And is that an 'r'? It looks like a 'v'."
He was assured it was an 'r'.
After Andriievskyi's name was sorted out, she told her story.
"I came here on a green card," she said. "And ever since then, I've wanted to be a citizen. This is so amazing."
Ruslan hopes to be an American citizen in a few weeks. They took their respective citizenship tests the same day, he said, but Ruslan entered the wrong birth date. It was a mistake, he said, but it delayed the process for him.
"But I will join her in a few weeks," he said proudly.
These details are key, according to Joseph B. Forte, supervising officer for the U.S. Immigration Service's Lawrence office. Forte was also the Master of Ceremonies for Saturday's event. When prospective citizens get their immigration packet, the Immigration Service urges them to proofread it carefully. A mistake can delay their final swearing in for weeks or months, he said.
Saturday's event was festive, with lots of clapping and cheering, and more than a few tears of joy. The museum is converted, by legislative decree, to a courtroom for about two hours. The Hon. Joan McMenamy, First Justice of the Berkshire County Juvenile Court, officiated.
Prior to swearing in the new citizens, McMenamy had a story, too. Her grandmother, May Sullivan, emigrated here from Ireland, eventually became a citizen and raised a family here.
"She died when I was pretty young," said McMenamy. "I never asked her about her struggles to get here and after she got here. I'm sure they were many. But she was responsible for what I am today. And I think if we all take a look at our personal histories, we would find that we all have similar stories."
She also urged the new Americans to be active in their community. Although on a national level, there is some resistance to immigrants, "in the end, we are more alike than we are different."
In fact, Mead and Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt both reminded the citizens that there was a sign-up table in the main reception area of the museum so they could register to vote.
"I can't imagine a more fitting place than among these wonderful paintings," said Moffatt. "This great experiment in hope, peace and freedom helps make our country stronger."
"Immigrants," said Mead, "make this country great. Thank you for reminding me what it means to be an American."
One more story. Ute DeFarlo of Great Barrington is originally from Germany. She came here as a young woman on a student exchange program. She eventually married an American, and, as she said, "I don't have to worry about being a citizen or not being one.
"But," she said. "I wanted to vote. I wanted to have a say. Now I can."
In addition to speeches, there was music. Lena Orozco Grillon, originally from Colombia, is now a citizen with a pretty good voice. She sang the National Anthem at the end of the event and opened it with "America the Beautiful."
And she sang these words.
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good,
from sea to shining sea."
Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977.
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