Amid a backdrop of Americana, 23 become US citizens

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STOCKBRIDGE — Surrounded by iconic Americana illustrations by Norman Rockwell, 23 men and women from 16 countries took their oath and became U.S. citizens Friday.

Friends and family of the new citizens filled the Norman Rockwell Museum for the event.

"Norman Rockwell paintings surround us and remind us of all that is good in our country and its people," said Laurie Norton Moffatt, the museum's executive director. "While distinctly American, they portray the hopes and dreams and desires or all people and cultures."

Along with the Berkshire Immigrant Center, the museum has hosted a United States Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony for Western Massachusetts residents for the past seven years.

This year, the citizens sworn in came from 15 cities and towns, 11 of which are in Berkshire County, according to Berkshire Immigrant Center Director Brooke Mead.

During the ceremony, Mead called the new citizens rock stars, and commended them on their ability to endure a strenuous path to citizenship while also supporting their families locally and abroad.

"Congratulations, and welcome, my fellow Americans," Mead said. "Today, our nation has been strengthened by 23 new citizens."

About 15 of the 23 sought some assistance at the Berkshire Immigrant Center throughout their process, according to Mead.

"We hope that you feel welcome," said Pittsfield Juvenile Court Judge Joan McMenemy, who presided over the ceremony. "We are amazed with how beautiful and diverse your families are."

McMenemy attributed her success to the hard work of her grandmother, Mary Sullivan, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.

Sullivan arrived with no money or technical skills, but immediately went to work cleaning houses, McMenemy said. When Sullivan had a daughter (McMenemy's mother), she encouraged her to work hard in school and go to college.

"And here I am, Mary's granddaughter," the judge said.

New citizen Magdalena Mieczkowska, a native of Poland, described Friday as bittersweet. While she was relieved to have finally completed the process to become a citizen, she said she is fearful for those who might never see a naturalization ceremony.

"It was probably the worst experience of my life," she said of the process to become a citizen.

During her interview for citizenship, an immigration official asked her details about her time in the U.S. dating back nearly a decade, including information about her husband and dates she went on, she said.

"I guess I said one thing wrong, and he got really hung up on it," she said. "The system is broken."

Anup Singh of Pittsfield was the last of his family to be granted citizenship, but said he understands the "scrutiny" that immigration officials give to applications.

"I'm feeling on top of the world," Singh said.

Singh's wife, Rita Ghai, said she had "no words" to describe her relief that her entire family, including her four children, are now citizens.

The couple brought the children to the United States when they were very young. Now, two are accountants, one is a registered nurse and the other is a computer engineer.

"It was for the progress of my kids. I wanted to see my kids [succeed]," Ghai said. "Now, I'm seeing it."

Nancy Constanza-Donis of Pittsfield left her home in El Salvador for the same reason: her children.

On Friday, not only did she get her citizenship, but so did her two daughters, Allison, 10, and Hazel, 6.

The girls led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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