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SPRINGFIELD — Sandra McCall migrated to the U.S. from Kingston, Jamaica, 22 years ago seeking opportunities her homeland didn’t provide.
“(I wanted to) see a different side of the world,” she said. “I’ve come to like it and decided this is what I wanted.”
She visits Jamaica regularly, but said she feels she’s now in a place where she can do better for herself and her family.
McCall is one of 176 people who became American citizens Thursday morning through the United States Citizens and Immigration Services’ naturalization ceremony. She encourages fellow migrants to fulfill requirements and become citizens.
“If you have the opportunity to be here, it is something that you should pursue,” she said. “There are so many opportunities and privileges. Being a part of the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen, really helps you contribute to the country more.”
Others taking part in the ceremony, held on the lawn of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, came from Brazil, Ecuador, Japan, Kosovo, Trinidad, the United Kingdom and Vietnam, among other nations. Over 55 countries were represented.
“These are countries with varied and rich cultures and you’ve taken very different roads to get to this point of taking the oath as new American citizens,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson told the group.
Omowunmi Shelton, originally from Lagos, Nigeria, owns African Fashion in Springfield and moved to the United States in April 2016.
“There’s a lot of things going on in Africa and in the world as a whole,” she said. “Here you work, get paid … you live a better life.”
Her plan is to “keep on pushing, enjoy the good of the land and to contribute.”
“This is the time to give back, contribute to society, to my community,” she said. “I’m ready to do that.”
Narendran G-Dayandan, from southern India, moved to America in 2004 to study. “The education system is what attracted me,” he said.
He considers being naturalized bittersweet, saying it’s hard to think he is now an actual citizen of the U.S., after living in the country with a green card for almost two decades.
Each candidate for citizenship had to be at least 18, have lived in the United States for a number of years, be a lawful permanent resident for at least five years, speak English fluently, become familiar with American history and government and commit to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution, among other criteria.
Robertson congratulated them and spoke about the responsibilities they now have as citizens, one of which is the ability to vote.
“Whatever has led you to this moment — your memories of your country of origin, its language, its culture, its traditions, those experiences remain with you and contribute to America’s richness and variety,” she said.
Zahi Haddad, a professor in the engineering department at Springfield Technical Community College, was the ceremony’s keynote speaker.
He shared his journey of migrating from Jordan to the United States, knowing very little English — and now serving as a professor at STCC.
He told the new U.S. citizens that the American dream is possible, although it won’t be handed to them.
“Your history shaped you into the individuals that you are today and gives you a unique opportunity to leave your mark on the community around you,” he said.