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Westmoreland

'Welcome home,' 16 new U.S. citizens told at naturalization ceremony in Greensburg

| Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 7:42 p.m.
David Ulonska, who was born in Australia, gets a hug from his son, Jackson, 7, after becoming a U.S. citizen during the naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
David Ulonska, who was born in Australia, gets a hug from his son, Jackson, 7, after becoming a U.S. citizen during the naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Ausmika Chhetri, 3, looks at the program while sitting with her parents as her grandmother, Duki Maya Chhetri, 73, of India, becomes a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Ausmika Chhetri, 3, looks at the program while sitting with her parents as her grandmother, Duki Maya Chhetri, 73, of India, becomes a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Duki Maya Chhetri of India and David Ulonska of Australia wait with other immigrants to be sworn in as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Duki Maya Chhetri of India and David Ulonska of Australia wait with other immigrants to be sworn in as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Asia Omar Hussein raises her hand during the swearing in at the naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Asia Omar Hussein raises her hand during the swearing in at the naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Family members, including Luzi Osmani (left), a native of Kenya and who was waiting for her brother to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, sit and listen to remarks during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Family members, including Luzi Osmani (left), a native of Kenya and who was waiting for her brother to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, sit and listen to remarks during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
A group of 16 immigrants is sworn in during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A group of 16 immigrants is sworn in during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Christina O'Brien, the Westmoreland County prothonotary, speaks during a naturalization ceremony for 16 new U.S. citizens Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Christina O'Brien, the Westmoreland County prothonotary, speaks during a naturalization ceremony for 16 new U.S. citizens Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
A newly sworn in U.S. citizen returns to her seat with an American flag during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A newly sworn in U.S. citizen returns to her seat with an American flag during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
A group of immigrants waves flags after being officially sworn in as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A group of immigrants waves flags after being officially sworn in as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
A member of the Westmoreland County Sheriffs Department's color guard returns his white gloves to his shoulder after presenting the colors during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A member of the Westmoreland County Sheriffs Department's color guard returns his white gloves to his shoulder after presenting the colors during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Asia Omar Hussein of Kenya returns to see her family after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States during a ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Asia Omar Hussein of Kenya returns to see her family after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States during a ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
The Westmoreland County Deputy Sheriffs Honor Guard stand at formation during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The Westmoreland County Deputy Sheriffs Honor Guard stand at formation during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
American flags are distributed to newly sworn-in U.S. citizens after the completion of a naturalization ceremony at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg. (Shane Dunlap / Tribune-Review)
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
American flags are distributed to newly sworn-in U.S. citizens after the completion of a naturalization ceremony at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg. (Shane Dunlap / Tribune-Review)
Steven Chang stands for the Pledge of Allegiance as he waits for his wife, Joyce Chang, who was born in Hong Kong, to become a naturalized citizen during a ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Steven Chang stands for the Pledge of Allegiance as he waits for his wife, Joyce Chang, who was born in Hong Kong, to become a naturalized citizen during a ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Siblings Famo Mohamed  (background), 4, Bashire Mohamed (right), 7, and Hawa Mohamed, 3, enjoy cake after a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Siblings Famo Mohamed (background), 4, Bashire Mohamed (right), 7, and Hawa Mohamed, 3, enjoy cake after a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Judges sit near the windows overlooking Greensburg in the  Westmoreland Museum of American Art during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Judges sit near the windows overlooking Greensburg in the Westmoreland Museum of American Art during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday, May 3, 2017.

In all, there were 16 candidates.

They came from 13 countries on five continents, ranged in age from 19 to 73 and represented a veritable melting pot of ethnicities.

All had waited for years and traveled thousands of miles on a journey that ended Wednesday in Greensburg where they took the Oath of Allegiance before a U.S. flag at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Related: Could you pass the U.S. Citizenship test? Take the civics practice test here

In a ceremony rife with emotion, Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway reminded the group that their differences were now subsumed to one commonality.

"As of today, you are no longer Italian, Pakistani, Kenyan, Iranian or other cultures that you came from. You are like me, American," Hathaway said.

Each year approximately 700,000 individuals become new American citizens in naturalization ceremonies across the U.S.

Their reasons for seeking citizenship are almost as varied as their numbers. While some have fled oppression, others have come for opportunity and still others have come with an American spouse, anxious to share citizenship.

Duki Maya Chhetri, 73, the oldest of the new Americans in Greensburg, fought back tears as she stood to take the oath. Dressed in a bright red sweater and floor-length skirt, the petite woman with hair smoothed into a neat bun occasionally glanced nervously at her son, Lal Csseti, 40, and her smiling granddaughter, 3-year-old Ausmika.

Chhetri was born in India, but her husband was Bhutanese and she traveled halfway around the world to finally find a home in a Bhutanese community in southern Allegheny County.

At the other end of the spectrum, 19 year-old Ilva Myzyri, a native of Albania, was anxious to get back to Penn State where she is a sophomore information technology major.

Myzyri, who was born in Albania, came to the U.S. 16 years ago when her mother took a job with the World Bank. She's thought of herself as American for a long time.

"This formalizes it," she said.

Malek Messali, 29, said it was opportunity that drew him to the United States from Algeria. Dressed stylishly in a dark, slim-cut suit, white shirt and tie, Messali said he works at the Double Tree Hotel in Pittsburgh. His brother recently joined him in the United States. He's optimistic about their future.

"I just have a few more credits to go for my degree from CCAC," Messali said.

Once a magnet for tens of thousands of immigrants who came to work in the mines and mills and went on to claim citizenship, Western Pennsylvania today holds only a handful of naturalizations.

Pennsylvania, with 16,554 naturalizations in 2015, fell far behind California with nearly 156,000 and New York with 90,000.

Although there are some mechanisms to expedite the process for those in military service or married to U.S. citizens, most immigrants must obtain status as permanent legal residents and then establish permanent residency for five years before they can they apply for naturalization.

Westmoreland County President Judge Richard McCormick reflected on the magnitude of such decisions Wednesday as he wrapped up the ceremony at the museum.

"Being welcoming makes us stronger as a country," McCormick said. He paused, then called out the new citizens by name, one by one.

"Adeel, Asia, David, Duki, Emma, Florina, Ilva, Kaushile, Luigi, Malek, Mohamed, Ram, Syeda, Vahid, Chang, Muhammad. ... Welcome home," McCormick said.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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