Schenectady County

Pledges of allegiance: 20 become new citizens

Better late than never. Nisha Merchant of Saratoga Springs finally earned her citizenship Monday aft

Better late than never.

Nisha Merchant of Saratoga Springs finally earned her citizenship Monday after 28 years of living in the United States.

Merchant, who relocated from India in 1983, said she had always intended to become an American citizen but her job as a linguist kept getting in the way. It required her to travel overseas for extended periods — therefore, she could not comply with the requirement of living in the country for three consecutive years.

But after becoming a stay-at-home mother to her two boys, there was really no excuse not to take the citizenship test, she said.

“This is the country I’m going to live in, and I do like the freedoms and the ability to express myself and my opinions,” she said. “Now I can do it without fear of repercussions.”

“I’m really proud of her,” said husband, Raymond Goss. “It’s taken a long time because of her travel.”

Merchant was one of 20 people who took the Oath of Allegiance in an hour-long ceremony Monday morning at Saratoga National Historical Park.

Others also waited a long time to obtain citizenship. Atsuko Dunn of Voorheesville has been living in the United States for 30 years. Her husband, William, said her sons, who are both serving in the military in Afghanistan, prompted his wife to make the decision.

“Don’t you think you should become a citizen now?” he recalled them asking.

William Dunn, who works for the state, was beaming with pride. “She aced her test, by the way — perfect score,” he said.

Atsuko Dunn had trouble talking because she was overcome with emotion.

She said because her boys are both soldiers, she gets choked up when thinking about Saratoga being the turning point of the Revolutionary War — a key moment in American history. She wants to honor all the soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for this country.

Kamala Looknauth of Schenectady emigrated from Guyana seven years ago for a better life. She and her husband both work as nursing assistants.

“There are opportunities, but not as much as over here,” she said.

Her husband, Kenny Looknauth, said his family came over to the United States when he was 11. He is very happy that his wife passed the citizenship test. They had already celebrated the night before with an American tradition — a family barbecue.

Also taking the Oath of Allegiance on Monday were Mario Caputo-Suarez, who is originally from Colombia; Achim Felber, Germany; Paolo Grandjacquet, Italy; Bardhyl Horanlli and Ermanela Horanlli, Albania; Earl Elvis Mentor and Marilyn Ann Mentor, Guyana; Danmatee Diana Mora, Trinidad and Tobago; Gareth Daemone Perrin, Jamaica; Thomas Baby Sebastian, India; Ziyad Mahmoud Hasan Shaklah, Jordan; Besim and Vjollca Shushe, Albania; Sabrina May Ty, Canada; Poh Pheng Wong, Malaysia; and Jiankun Yuan, China.

The event’s keynote speaker, state Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, was encouraged that the new citizens came from different backgrounds. “That’s what America is about,” he said.

He said he believes that one of the most important rights in America is the right to free expression, especially on political matters. McDonald, who has come under fire for voting in favor of same-sex marriage legislation, encouraged the new citizens to exercise their rights.

“They can tell me anything they want and they can tell me any place they want me to go and don’t have to worry about going to jail,” he said.

Park Ranger Joe Craig led a lemonade toast to the country’s independence in the spirit of a 1776 citizen. The audience raised their plastic cups as he gave 13 messages of thanks — one for each of the original 13 colonies.

“Huzzah!” shouted the audience after each message.

A loud cannon blast concluded the ceremony.

Merchant’s mother, Sharda Merchant, who traveled from Philadelphia for the ceremony, said she came to America 27 years ago for the same reason as all of these new Americans: “It’s a land of opportunity.”

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