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34 become naturalized U.S. citizens

October 23, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Watching television helped Michele "Mike" Schiano Di Cola learn how to speak English when he emigrated from Italy to the United States at the age of 15.

"It was definitely not easy, but being such a young person, it helped," Di Cola said Friday morning after he and 33 others from 22 nations took the oath of allegiance and became U.S. citizens at the federal courthouse in Martinsburg.

Di Cola said he fell in love with "the land of opportunity" when he came from his hometown outside of Naples to visit his brother in the United States. He owns Pizza Montese in Spring Mills, W.Va.

In Friday's ceremony, which was presided over by Magistrate David J. Joel, the new citizens were encouraged to vote and become involved in the community through service to others.

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"I know exactly how you feel on this momentous day," said Ernesto H. Agbayani, a Martinsburg physician who became a naturalized citizen nine years ago in a similar ceremony.

Agbayani told the group that the ceremony, which likely once was only a dream, might also have "a touch of melancholy" as they relinquish ties to their native countries.

"No matter how different we are, we can always find a common thread," Agbayani said. "We have a common goal -- the pursuit of the American dream."

The new citizens each were presented with an American flag, a bookmark and flag pin, and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

"I call this a great wedding ceremony because it's very much like that," said Eugene Kinder of the Civitan Club of Martinsburg. "You start with the 'I do's.'"

In his remarks, Kinder noted that many patents and other advancements in U.S. history were accomplished by naturalized citizens. He said they also were responsible for much of the country's hard work, from the coal mines in West Virginia to the railroads in California and the police department in New York City.

"We look forward to your individual contributions," said Kinder, encouraging the group to be "flag-waving Americans" after members of the Arden 4-H Club handed flags to each person.

Barbara Frankenberry of the Shenandoah Valley chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution led those gathered in recital of the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as citizens.

"I like to think of all of us as a star," Frankenberry said. "You are not new citizens. You are a rising star because you are (now) one of us."

After Joel presented each person with their citizenship certificate, those gathered heard remarks from Keith R. McIntosh, a representative of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. McIntosh also presented each new citizen with a copy of the Constitution.

Before reading a letter on behalf of her boss, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Penny Porter shared that she only recently learned information about her German heritage and admitted that Americans who are born here might not always be aware of the privileges they have.

"Sometimes, we take things for granted a little bit," Porter said.

In introductory remarks, Joel said the ceremony was one of the very few things that happen in the second-floor courtroom that is pleasant.

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