Editor's Note: This article and photos by Elizabeth Bobrick first appeared in the Middletown Eye on July 4. She kindly allowed Middletown Patch to reprint it.
It was standing room only at the Council Chambers Tuesday morning as U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill swore in 41 new citizens. The new Americans represented 26 countries and five continents. Visiting dignitaries, who were clearly touched by the event, told their own stories of family and citizenship. It was a joyous and thoroughly non-partisan occasion.
Judge Underhill began by noting that the ceremony illustrated America’s national motto, the Latin phrase e pluribus unum — from many, one. New citizens, he said, “make our country more diverse and special. We can live together as one nation.”
After students from the chorus sang the national anthem, Sen. Richard Blumenthal took the podium. Blumenthal, whose father came to America from Germany in 1935 to escape persecution, recalled that he was “moved to tears ” when he attended his firs naturalization ceremony as a law clerk, 40 years ago. He said he felt the same way today, as “people who dream of being citizens have that dream come true.”
In her opening remarks, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said, “It is my honor to say these three simple words to you: ‘My fellow Americans.’” She urged everyone “never to forget your own history and beautiful traditions.” DeLauro’s father, she said, came from Italy unable to speak English, but convinced of the value of education. She is the grandmother of a first-generation American, a five year-old grandson born in Guatemala. “When I explained to him what I was going to do today, he said, ‘Bubbe, am I a citizen too?’ ‘Yes, you are!” I told him. ‘You are a citizen.’
Congressman Joe Courtney followed DeLauro, noting that “today is a celebration of the law,” and a “reaffirmation that the federal government can make a smarter, better system of immigration.” He congratulated the new citizens for overcoming the “hurdles” of naturalization. (Author’s note: In addition to rigorous security checks, all naturalized citizens have to pass a difficult test on America history and rules of government.)
He congratulated Mayor Dan Drew for presiding over his first naturalization ceremony.
“All citizens should be required to pass the test you did!” declared Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, whose Irish grandmother “came to American with 17 cents in her pocket.” “Your greatest opportunity is to vote for your leaders,” she said. “People are dying all over the world for this right.”
Richard Paladino, president of the Middlesex County Bar Association, ended on a light note. When Mr. Paladino’s grandmother was a young woman, she and her friends used to take the trolley into New Haven and watch trials at the courthouse, “for entertainment, education, and inspiration.” He noted that attending court is still free – and that jury duty is the obligation of all citizens.
Judge Underhill then called each of the 41 citizens up to receive their certificate of naturalization, and to shake the hands of all the dignitaries. After rounds of picture taking, a line formed at the voter registration tables as newly minted Americans took their first steps towards exercising their rights as citizens.