After hard work and study, 19 become U.S. citizens in Norwich

Narian Rewa, center, of New Britain, originally from Poland, watches with his hand over his heart as a member of the Norwich Police Department Honor Guard comes down the aisle with the American flag during the presentation of colors for the naturalization ceremony held at Otis Library in Norwich Friday, April 13, 2018.  Otis is one of the six libraries in the state to host a naturalization ceremony as part of National Library Week.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Narian Rewa, center, of New Britain, originally from Poland, watches with his hand over his heart as a member of the Norwich Police Department Honor Guard comes down the aisle with the American flag during the presentation of colors for the naturalization ceremony held at Otis Library in Norwich Friday, April 13, 2018. Otis is one of the six libraries in the state to host a naturalization ceremony as part of National Library Week. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Norwich — Maria E. Noguera used every minute of free time to study, reading books, watching DVDs, doing classwork and finding more books on her own.

On Friday, the 46-year-old East Hartford resident stood with 18 others at Otis Library and swore an oath to become a U.S. citizen in a ceremony echoed at five other libraries across the state this week. In all, 200 applicants from 45 countries were made citizens this week in Connecticut as part of National Library Week and hosted by Peer Library Citizenship Collaborative.

At Otis, 19 immigrants from 13 different countries took the oath in front of a packed community room filled with family members, teachers, supporters and local political dignitaries. Five were from India, two each from the Philippines and Poland, and one each from Brazil, Portugal, Jamaica, Guyana, Cape Verde, Haiti, the People’s Republic of China, Ecuador, Colombia and Ghana.

Noguera, who immigrated to the Hartford area from Colombia in 1999, said she quickly became enthralled with U.S. history and found other books and sources to read and study beyond the requirements of her citizenship classes. Her husband, Alvaro Noguera, who became a U.S. citizen in 2003, said he helped her but she was determined on her own to succeed.

“It’s all in here,” she said of her work, patting a leather carrying case she brought to Friday’s ceremony. “I like the history. I read. I did beyond finding the answers. I read more books and studied beyond the class.”

Noguera, a supervisor at electronics firm Accutron Inc. in Windsor, wasn’t the only new citizen to declare a love of U.S. history on Friday, nor was she alone in saying taking the oath and receiving her citizenship certificate was a combination of exciting and relaxing.

“No more stress,” she said.

Honora Torto, 71, originally from Ghana, left her homeland in 2005. She has lived in England, where she was a nurse, New York and now East Hartford. She said she had trouble finding work, and took courses in New York to become a pharmaceutical technician. She now works at Companions and Homemakers in East Hartford and said she loves her job.

Following Friday’s ceremony, Torto was one of several new citizens to complete passport applications at Otis. Torto said her husband still lives in Ghana and visits her frequently. Her two adult children live in England with her four grandchildren.

“They are very happy with me,” she said of her family’s reaction to her U.S. citizenship.

Abhilash Jagadish and Divya Gopalan, originally from India, said after Friday’s ceremony that they are now “the equals” of their children, ages 10 and 2, who are U.S. citizens. The couple live in Mansfield, halfway between Gopalan’s job as a pediatric physician at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam and Jagadish’s job at the engineering firm Lydall Inc. in Manchester.

They left India in 2000 and first moved to California. A year later, they came to Connecticut.

“We started studying,” Jagadish said. “We learned more and more about the history. It made us realize more and more how we wanted to be part of this country.”

Jagadish still was learning Friday, as he paid close attention to the speech by United States Court of Appeals Circuit Judge John M. Walker Jr. after he administered the oath of citizenship. Jagadish frequently nodded at the judge’s remarks and leaned forward in concentration.

Walker reminded the new citizens of both their freedoms and rights as citizens and their accompanying responsibilities. He urged them to register to vote at a table hosted by the League of Women Voters following the ceremony.

Walker said everyone in the room Friday should expect to be treated as equal Americans, new citizens the same as those born in the United States. But he said the freedom of being an American “does not come from the laws, but from the heart.”

Walker didn’t leave out one unpleasant aspect of living in the United States, namely the obligation to pay taxes. “Unfortunate,” he said, “but we have to do it.” But he also said if they don’t like the way their tax money is being spent or the way their elected officials are doing their jobs, they have “the right to kick them out of office if they’re not doing their jobs. That last one is very important.”

While most in the room laughed at the comment — and his postscript: “It’s been done” — Walker also said he expects that many of the 19 new citizens who sat in front of him likely came from homelands with governments that saw themselves as “masters” over their citizens, rather than servants of them.

He promised them that their individual vote would remain confidential, known only to themselves and to whomever they decide to reveal it.

“I strongly urge you to fulfill your responsibility to vote,” he said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Gail Washington, second from right, of Stratford, formerly of Guyana, and others take the oath of allegiance during the naturalization ceremony held at Otis Library in Norwich on Friday, April 13, 2018.  Otis is one of the six libraries in the state to host a naturalization ceremony as part of National Library Week.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Gail Washington, second from right, of Stratford, formerly of Guyana, and others take the oath of allegiance during the naturalization ceremony held at Otis Library in Norwich on Friday, April 13, 2018. Otis is one of the six libraries in the state to host a naturalization ceremony as part of National Library Week. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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