As a child growing up in the Philippines, Cris Casasola dreamed of one day becoming a U.S. citizen.
“It’s free here,” the Albany resident said simply.
Casasola, a nurse at Albany Medical Center who came to this country to pursue more opportunities, got his wish as he and his 5-year-old son, Cristian, were among 20 people sworn in as new American citizens Wednesday. Fifteen countries were represented in the ceremony held at the Empire State Plaza.
State Supreme Court Appellate Division Associate Justice Michael Kavanagh, who administered the Oath of Allegiance to the new citizens, said his mother immigrated from Belfast around 1913.
“What we do here today for me is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices she made when she left her family in Ireland to start a new life in America,” he said.
Kavanagh praised the soon-to-be citizens for overcoming their own challenges. He said America’s strength is in its diversity and immigrants contribute to that diversity.
“They, like each of you, have made the United States so historically unique and so undeniably special,” he said.
Leeanna Maley of Albany said she moved from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago 10 years ago following a divorce so she could start a new life. Maley, who works as an independent contractor in financial and asset management, said she was thrilled about being sworn in as a citizen.
“It’s a dream come true — goals accomplished and to have freedom, freedom to live,” he said.
Vasyl Hereha of Catskill and his mother, Ivanna, finally became citizens after 14 years of living in the United States. The family had originally immigrated from the Ukraine so Vasyl could have an operation — he was born with one leg shorter than the other.
“It’s great to go through the last step of the process,” he said.
He has just finished college and is working in a hospital as a patient care technician. He hopes to continue his studies in medicine.
Family friend Stephanie Osssendorf of Hudson was happy for the new citizens. “The smiles on their faces tell you the whole story,” she said.
Alce Previlon of Hudson, who works as a home health aide and aspires to be a nurse, was also among the happy new citizens.
“I love the people, the culture, the health care, everything,” he said.
The new citizens could party right there at the plaza with a full slate of activities during the state’s Fourth of July Celebration, which was sponsored by Price Chopper. Thousands gathered at the plaza ahead of the fireworks to listen to music, enjoy a cold beverage on the hot, humid day or just catch up with family and friends.
“We come here early, and the rest of the family joins in, and we end up with a big family party,” said Allen Eichstadt of Schenectady.
Eichstadt said he is unhappy with some politicians right now, but is grateful for the freedom to vote them out.
Pat Ferri of Schenectady and Jim Owen of Chatham were showing off their unicycle-riding skills and giving some brave souls a lesson on the one-wheeled vehicles.
“It’s screwy, and it’s fun, and you’re never quite in control,” Ferri said.
Owen agreed that it is a fun mode of transportation. “There’s always something you can do with it,” he said. “It never gets boring.”
Also performing were trapeze artists Airly Acrobatics and Nanny’s Double Dutch.
Others enjoyed the music, which included Tommy James and the Shondells, Blue Machine and the Back 40 Band. Pat Frank of Troy and his girlfriend, Carolyn Cirnitski, were dancing. “We didn’t expect great music like this,” Frank said.
Kids also joined in on the fun with bounce houses, a giant slide, pony rides, a petting zoo and other fun activities. Luke LaChance, 6, of Albany was looking patriotic.
“I got my face painted,” he said, showing off “USA” on one cheek and the American flag on the other.
Michelle Miller of Amsterdam, who was playing a game with her brother, Paul, of Albany, said she always remembers those who served their country and in some cases made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We know how hard they fought for our freedom,” she said.