Nicole A. Elliott Staff writer
"In America if you try your best, your dreams can come true."
Those were the tearful words of Tha Dah Paw, an immigrant from Burma who was among the 30 local residents to pledge their Oath of Allegiance during Thursday’s naturalization ceremony at Fort Stanwix National Monument.
Paw, who came to Utica five years ago, was chosen to address her fellow candidates, family members and dignitaries, where she told her grim story of oppression in her native land and how America has evolved from being her personal symbol of hope to a reality of living a better life. She described how her war-torn nation forced her family to be displaced and take shelter in a refugee camp in Thailand. But there were no opportunities and little hope.
"I want to take this time to thank everyone who has helped me get to this point in my life," Paw said, giving tribute to staff of Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica, where she is now employed. "It’s been my dream to become an American citizen since I came here in 2007. Because of war in my homeland we took shelter in a refugee camp in Thailand, so this is actually the first time I’ve become a citizen of any country. And in the refugee camp, there was no hope for the future."
Paw described how her family finally received the opportunity to apply to come to the United States.
"There were no freedoms or human rights in the refugee camp," she said, as her eyes filled with tears. "There was no freedom to do what you wanted or to express yourself. But now that’s all changed in America. Now I can go to college and make my dreams come true."
Prior to Paw’s remarks, the ceremony was opened with words from U.S. District Court Judge David N. Hurd, who encouraged the candidates to celebrate their day of happiness and to remember they now had an obligation to give back to society and be part of their new country by exercising their right to vote.
Maria A. Roat, chief information officer for the director for administration for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a native of Utica, shared her family’s story on how they came to America from Poland and the Ukraine to seek better lives. She even had a family member who was naturalized at the ceremony.
Roat described how the United States has been built by immigrants, and how they are just as an important part of shaping its future as they were its history.
"Today your story joins the story of America," Roat said. "Your children, who like me, will be first generation Americans, will be the next chapter of your personal story of prosperity. And just as this fort never surrendered, I challenge you to never give up on your American dream. Make a difference and be involved. You will strengthen the American culture."
After musical selections were sung by the BARBershop Belles, the candidates were administered their oath and received their certificates of citizenship.
"That’s my mom. She’s an American citizen now!," screamed a young woman from the audience as Fatuma Nusa Abshir, of Somalia, went up to receive her certificate.
"It’s so important for me to be here today," Abshir said with a gleaming smile. "I love America. It has changed my life. God bless America."
A list of new United States citizens and their native lands:
Fatuma Nusa Abshir, Somalia; Carlos Basilio Alvarez, Peru; Warner Lewis Cox, Canada; Htoo Di, Burma; Jasmine Di, Burma; Suvada Ejubovic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Mu Ler Gaw, Burma; Ler Baw Gilbert, Burma; Oksana Gololobova, Ukraine; Merisa Husejinovic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Malihan Ervin Ilano, Philippines; Redzep Kantarevic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Soe Lwin, Burma; Viktoriya Lyubezhanina, Belarus; Pru Moo, Burma; Bajro Muskic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Dzemila Muskic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Mikhail Mycyk, Ukraine; Lay Lay New, Burma; Tha Dah Paw, Burma; Seval Rahic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Ziha Rahic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Ferida Sabanagic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Angela Say, Burma; Pleh Daybwa Shwe, Burma; Has Law Eh Soe, Burma; Amra Tricic, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Hser Nay Wah, Burma; Pu Ya Ko, Burma; and Andrey Zhuchenya, Ukraine.