Standing tall with hands placed across their chests, some of the 45 newly naturalized citizens on Friday morning listened, while others sang the National Anthem during a naturalization ceremony at SUNY Schenectady County Community College.
Judge Mark Powers conducted the ceremony and told the audience citizenship was a privilege.
“This remains the land of freedom and opportunity, where you are limited only by your desire and your diligence to pursue your goals,” Powers said.
Rajendra Mukhram first arrived in the U.S. ‘illegally’ in 2000, he said, with the hope of becoming a citizen. Before he could do that he had to return to his home country of Guyana in 2017 to go through the proper channels. First he had to get a green card or a visa, then he had an interview with immigration services and finally, he passed the citizenship test.
Mukhram said he had to study 100 different questions.
“My son helped me out,” he said. “I studied, but I made him question me.”
To pass the test applicants must answer six out 10 questions correctly.
The Ronnie & Son Autobody worker said he moved here to be with his wife, who arrived in the 1990s. He said he loves Schenectady and the U.S and feels safer here than where he is from in Port Mourant, Guyana.
“It’s an honor to be here,” he said.
He will celebrate his citizenship with a dinner, but first, he had to get back to work and paint a client’s car.
Powers, whose mother was a naturalized citizen, encouraged the new Americans to participate in democracy.
“Exercise your right to be heard on matters of concern, vote in every election. When asked to do so eagerly perform your duty as a member of a jury. Watch what is happening around you and form your own opinion. Practice your religion and respect the right of others to do the same,” he said. “With privilege comes responsibility.”
While Reshma Ragoobeer waited patiently for the ceremony to begin, four of her co-workers from PiSA BioPharm eagerly awaited the moment they could honk, cheer and wave signs and an American flag for her.
Ragoobeer was 10 when her family got here in 2007.
“My parents basically came for us to have a better education, better life,” she said.
The plan was to become citizens, she said, but life had gotten busy. Now, her family is working to get citizenship. She said her sister had her interview with immigration services Tuesday. She said it’s an exciting moment.
Friday’s was the first of six ceremonies the county is planning to hold this year, according to County Clerk Cara Ackerly. County officials are assessing other locations throughout the county to hold the ceremonies.
The 4th Judicial District, which includes Schenectady County, typically held one ceremony a month for approximately 35 to 60 applicants before the pandemic, according to a press release. The first drive-in ceremony took place in September 2020.
For Ackerly watching everyone take the oath has special meaning — her grandfather became a citizen when she was a baby. She remembers how he blended his Italian traditions with American ones.
“It’s nice to see that people still believe in the American dream,” she said.
Karthik Vijaykumar came to the U.S. in 2008 to further his studies. He now holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and is getting ready to start a new job.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted,” he said.
Vijaykumar said his mom is still in India, where the nation is in crisis over the spread of COVID.
“The government is doing it’s best,” he said. But, he said America is a lot different than other countries.
“People here have a lot more benefits,” he said. “You have the government that takes care of its people, where some other countries don’t.”
He plans to celebrate with his wife by going to dinner
“Right now we’re thinking about 110 Grill,” he said.
New citizen Javier Perez-Moreno and his husband Jeffrey Graham are postponing their celebration until everyone in their family has been vaccinated. Perez-Moreno is from Spain and met Graham in Europe. They got married in 2005 in Belgium because gay marriage wasn’t yet legal in the U.S. Now. Perez-Moreno, a teacher at Skidmore College, is here to stay.
“I love being in the states,” he said.
Where everyone came from:
Trinidad and Tobago