Americans at last, naturalization complete
The 27 new United States citizens came to America for varying reasons, but all flashed big grins and thoughts of brighter futures after completing a naturalization ceremony last week held along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
“It means a lot,” said Amos Nahndolo, 47, who fled the Liberian civil war in 2002 with his three children and wife, Tresia. The Christians came to settle in Grand Rapids, where they built lives and a career around Cornerstone University. Amos works with Hope Network, which helps children who are mentally challenged.
“This is what we dreamed about for many years, and now it has become a reality. Just by being citizens, this has opened up a huge opportunity for me.”
Nahndolo could feel a legacy take root during the 45-minute ceremony, performed under a tent set up next to the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven. He talked of a future in which his offspring would look back upon their success as grounded in a decision Amos made with his wife, Tresia, to flee Liberia.
“We may not see it now, but years from now my grandchildren may say this all happened because my grandfather came here. They will say it was good they came to give us a better living,” Nahndolo said.
He remained enthused an hour after the ceremony. “As the judge said, there is no other place where this could be possible except in a United States that is open to immigration. It’s not something small. It’s huge beyond what we saw today. But we now have to make use of it.”
The ceremony started with an opening of court; presentation of colors by Boy Scout Troop 115 of Acme; and singing of the National Anthem by Susan Pocklington, director of the Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear organization. Then U.S. Magistrate Judge Ellen Carmondy told of an Irishman who in the 1860's left a homeland devastated by a potato famine.
He accepted an offer to be paid to fight in the Civil War in place of a wealthy American — a legal practice of the time — and then moved to Wisconsin. His youngest son moved to Nebraska, and “his granddaughter became a federal judge, and that is me. That is my immigrant’s story.”
Mick Dedvukaj, Detroit district director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, remembered the process he went through to become an American. His family left Albania in 1969 when he was 1-year-old.
After the new citizens had pledged an Oath of Allegiance to America and had been presented, one-by-one, certifi cates of citizenship, judge Carmondy asked two things of them: to vote in local elections, and to read the U.S. Constitution. “You just swore to defend and protect it. You should know what’s in it,” she said.
The participants, who came from 21 countries, were congratulated by friends, family members and complete strangers after the ceremony. Some took time to tell their stories.
Audrey Postaychuk, 39, and his wife Victoria, 35, fled the Ukraine to escape religious persecution.
“The government sent (Andrey’s father) to jail for being a Christian,” he said.
Now the Postaychuks, their five children and their father live in the Traverse City area.
The family obtained the proper papers and moved to America in 1997. Andrey officially applied for citizenship in March, although the process wasn’t that simple.
“It’s a long process. It took us three years to apply,” he said.
Miguel Pedroza, 40, knows all too well the difficulty of becoming a United States citizen. He originally came to America without obtaining a “green card,” or proper working documents — for which he was sent back to Mexico. Green card in hand, he moved to Hillsdale in 2001 and continues to work as a welder in a factory in Jonesville.
“It was bittersweet. We had some roadblocks along the way, but we overcame the obstacles,” he said of the process to become an American.
Pedroza has been married to his wife, Rachel, for 9½ years. Rachel is from Hillsdale. The couple have three children ranging in ages from 6-10; all were present to see their father become an American citizen.
“I have been a green card holder for many years, and I just decided to apply for citizenship, and to become a part of this country that gave a lot to me. Some time I hope to give back to this country.
“I am proud to finally become a U.S. citizen. It’s a dream come true. It’s something I have dreamed about since I was little,” Pedroza said.
Mohammad Ashraf, 56, first visited the United States to offer moral support to his family when his brother’s wife was dying of cancer in 2001. After his own wife died in Pakistan, Ashraf obtained a green card, and brought his family to Lansing where he worked making pizzas.
“I saved the money. Then I bought a gas station. Then I saved money, and bought a party store. And now I’m here with my kids, and I’m happy,” Ashraf said.
At the ceremony were his boys Waqar, 17, and Khan, 15. They attend Lansing Waverly High School. His oldest son, who is 19, was back in Lansing tending to the family gas station.
Ashraf has not regretted leaving the country in which he was born.
“Pakistan, day by day, there is bad politics. There is no safety. There is no money safety; there is no life safety,” he said.
As Ashraf became an American citizen, so do his sons under 18 years of age. He expects his oldest son to eventually apply for citizenship.
“It’s a good process,” he said.