YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — How well would you do on a test about United States civics and geography?
If you were born in America, the answer doesn’t determine whether or not you get to be a citizen. However, not for naturalized citizens, which is one reason why a Thursday morning ceremony in York — where 20 people from 12 different countries renounced their allegiances to those countries in favor of the U.S. — was particularly special for them.
“Geography — what’s the longest river in the United States? Those are the types of questions that are on their naturalization tests,” York County Prothonotary Allison Blew, explained.
Beam also said of the chance she has a few times each year to watch new citizens raise their right hands: “It never gets old.”
Thursday’s was the first when masks weren’t required and new citizens could invite their families, just as in the pre-pandemic days. Lydia Ngatta, who came to the U.S. 14 years ago from Cameroon in West Africa, brought her children, nine-year-old Kiyan, seven-year-old Shiloh and four-year-old Arien to the ceremony.
“I graduated, had a college education — but had no job,” Ngatta said of her life in Cameroon. “And it was difficult. So I moved over for a better life and freedom.”
She said she has an appreciation for American abundance that her U.S.-born children will never have. She remembers her first job in the U.S., working in a supermarket.
“And I saw how food was being wasted. You have food that is like a day old, and they tossed it in the trash,” she said. “And I was heartbroken, because where I come from, there are so many people that cannot afford it.”
Not all new immigrants are fleeing starvation or oppression. David Leal had a good life in Portugal. But then he met a girl from Lebanon, Pa.
“We met in England when we were both studying abroad,” he said. “And we fell in love.”
Becoming a citizen means “like, literally everything” to Leal, he said. Why?
Because it “allows me to be a father permanently and forever for my children and a husband for my wife,” he explained, no longer worried that a change in immigration laws, for example, could threaten his ability to stay in the country.
And the timing of the ceremony?
“It’s really special that the ceremony is today, being that we are on the eve of the celebration of the birth of our country,” Blew, the prothonotary, said. “And the document that was written talks about equality for all people — talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that’s why these people chose America to come to live.”