WEST ORANGE, NJ — Thirty-two people became United States citizens when they took the oath of allegiance at Thomas Edison National Historical Park on Sept. 27, marking the first time a naturalization ceremony has been held at the park. The ceremony celebrated people who had come to the United States from 23 different countries and already called this country home before making it official in West Orange. American flags waved as certificates of citizenship were handed out and the Seton Hall Prep C Tonians sang “America the Beautiful.”
Naturalization ceremonies have been held in many national parks and historical landmarks, and Katie Tichacek, public affairs officer for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in New York City and Northern New Jersey, said the department tries to hold them in meaningful places.
“We try to have fun historical places to have ceremonies,” Tichacek said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the ceremony. “When we mix it up we can help others learn about citizenship, which can be intimidating.”
She said that many ceremonies have been held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, and one was recently held at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
TENHP Superintendent Thomas Ross congratulated the new citizens when he spoke at the event, encouraging them to explore the park as well as the other national parks around the countries.
“Mr. Edison’s work truly epitomizes the American spirit,” Ross said. “I think that speaks to the 32 citizens sitting in front of me who worked so hard to be here today. I challenge you to visit the national parks and learn about this great country.”
Ross is also the superintendent of the Morristown National Historical Park, which has hosted naturalization ceremonies as well; he said such ceremonies are his favorite events of the year.
“I’m so pleased to be able to host, it’s really the best way to introduce new citizens to the country and educate them about the parks,” Ross said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “It’s so inspirational and emotional to see these citizens who have worked so hard to obtain citizenship, by choice, from around the world.”
Fiona Nyambiti moved to Newark from Kenya approximately 13 years ago, and the yearlong process to become a U.S. citizen ended with her taking the oath of allegiance at the ceremony.
“I loved it, the way it was organized with the park rangers,” Nyambiti said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “I got to meet a lot of people from different countries and I learned a lot more about Edison.”
Nyambiti was pleased that she will now be a citizen, along with any children she may have in the future.
“I’m excited; this has been a good year for me,” she said.
Watching Nyambiti and the other new citizens being sworn in brought back memories for park ranger Yvan Beausoleil, who took the oath of allegiance in 1963 with his sisters after his family moved to Montclair from Quebec, Canada.
“Her opinion was that this was the land of opportunity,” Beausoleil said of his mother at the event. “When we got here, we didn’t speak the language and my father and uncle worked low-wage jobs. Slowly but surely, we became a part of that American fabric.”
Beausoleil graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in geology and completed his master’s degree at Oklahoma State University. After a successful career in science, he retired and became a ranger at TENHP.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Beausoleil said. “The day my sisters and I took that oath at the immigration office in Newark changed my life. I promise you that you’ll never regret it.”
In an interview with the Chronicle at the ceremony, Beausoleil said he hadn’t anticipated feeling so emotional as he watched the 32 new citizens be sworn in by Paulo Correia, the USCIS Newark field officer, at the event.
“Coming here and telling my story had an impact that I didn’t expect,” Beausoleil said. “It brought back a lot of memories. I’ve been taking pictures and letting them know that they’ll think about this for the rest of their lives. I’m so happy to see they’re all very excited.”
William Connell, a professor of history who holds the La Motta Chair in Italian Studies at Seton Hall University, gave the keynote address at the ceremony. In his speech, he encouraged the new citizens to get involved in their communities and to vote.
“You’ve been through an amazing process,” he said at the ceremony. “It’s taken a lot of planning. Now that you are citizens, the difference between being led and being a leader lies in voting. I hope you will vote regularly and that it serves as a reminder that your name could be on the ballot and that your children and grandchildren could one day lead. Let yourself feel like you are one of the owners of this country, because you are. Today this land becomes your land. It’s waiting for you.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic