SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The village played host to a group of new U.S. citizens Wednesday, April 3, as 29 people took the oath of allegiance at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. It was the second time SOPAC held a naturalization ceremony, and elected officials and members of the public were in the audience waving American flags and cheering on the new citizens.
South Orange Trustee Steve Schnall spoke at the ceremony, discussing all four of his immigrant grandparents. He mentioned a trip that he had taken to Ellis Island with his grandfather Ben.
“My grandfather was proud to share his experience and he was the star of the day,” Schnall said. “It is my hope that today will be memorable for you and you will share it with your children, grandchildren and anyone who will listen. Everybody belongs here. No matter where you come from, or who you love, you belong here. Remember that you now belong here too, whether you are a visitor or a resident of South Orange.”
Amaly Homer served as the keynote speaker at the ceremony, recounting her experience moving to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 9 years old. Though already an American citizen because she was born in Puerto Rico, Homer talked about watching her mother go through the process of becoming a citizen.
“I remember not being afraid and I remember being excited,” Homer said. “I remember wanting to immerse myself in the language and the traditions. We elevate this country with our uniqueness and where you come from has to be a part of who you are now and in the future. Know that you have a place in this country.”
The 29 new citizens who took the oath at SOPAC are now eligible to vote in the United States. Nicole Pivnick, a South Orange resident who emigrated from Canada, talked about her experience voting the first time after taking the oath herself last year.
“The first thing I did after taking my oath was register to vote,” Pivnick said. “As citizens, every one of you has the opportunity and the responsibility to participate. I encourage every one of you to be active in shaping this country’s future.”
SOPAC house manager Bill Pearlman said in an interview with the News-Record at the event that the staff of the performing arts center has enjoyed hosting the events over the last couple of years.
“It’s a happy time and an exciting time,” he said. “You can see that in their eyes.”
Sarah Calhoun, a Maplewood resident from London who was sworn in as a new citizen at the ceremony, said it was nice to make her citizenship official. She has lived in Maplewood for four years and has been in the United States for 13 years.
“It was nice to be with other people who were doing it too in a ceremony,” Calhoun said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “They did a really nice job.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic