Fifteen recent immigrants living in Connecticut took the oath of allegiance as American citizens on Wednesday during a special court session to be held at the State Capitol. Minutes after the new Americans were sworn in as citizens, the Connecticut Immigrant & Refugee Coalition (CIRC) honored eight longtime state residents who have made significant contributions to life in Connecticut. The individuals honored on the 21st Annual Connecticut Immigrant Day came to the United States from Belarus, Italy, Vietnam, Poland, Egypt, Pakistan, India and Taiwan. The new Americans citizens came to the U.S. from Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Guatemala, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Russia and Syria.
“Immigrants have always been – and continue to be – an abundant and enduring strength of our great nation,” said Robert Fishman, Executive Director of the Connecticut Immigrant & Refugee Coalition (CIRC), which sponsored the observance with the Office of Secretary of the State. “Connecticut is fortunate to have many remarkable individuals who have contributed tremendously to our state, and as we honor them we are also inspired by the newest group of proud and determined immigrants to take the oath of allegiance as Americans.”
The court session that administered the oath to 15 new Americans was presided over by The Honorable Donna F. Martinez, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Connecticut.
Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman shared brief remarks at the ceremony, recalling her grandfather’s journey to America. The CIRC award recipients at this year’s 21st annual ceremony included residents of Avon, Trumbull, Farmington, Norwich, Monroe and East Hartford, in addition to West Hartford. The National Anthem was led by Chris Nelson, a native of Ghana and current Goodwin College student. The Governor’s Foot Guard presented the colors at the start of the ceremony, which was led by Chris George of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services.
The mission of CIRC, a coalition of about a dozen organizations across Connecticut, is to promote the rights and opportunities of immigrants and refugees in Connecticut and to foster their civic participation.
The individuals honored are:
- Bassam Gayed, born in Egypt, is Multicultural Services Coordinator at the Otis Library in Norwich.
- Irena Rak Dzierzbinski, born in Belgium, teaches French and Spanish in middle school in Darien and is active in Girl Scouts. She hosts a Polish-English radio program at Fairfield University.
- Naeem Khalid, born in Pakistan, started Sam’s Food stores and employs 1,000 in his businesses. He formed a charity, Sam’s Children, to assist needy children in Connecticut and is active with the Pakistan American Association of Connecticut.
- Ruth Lazowski, born in Belarus, is a Holocaust survivor who speaks with school groups.
- Cary Lakenbach, born in Italy, is the current Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and an actuary.
- Bruce Tsan-Tang Liang, born in Taiwan, is the Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
- Vani Nidadavolu, born in India, operates an Indian Dance School and works part-time for Edward A. Jones. She holds an MA in Commerce and is a Philanthropist.
- Trinh K. Duong, born in Vietnam, came to Connecticut as a refugee and now works with new refugees and immigrants, helping them to resettle. She received her degree in Accounting from UConn.
In addition, Alicia Kinsman, Director and Managing Attorney of Immigration Legal Services at the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants received the Myra M. Oliver Memorial Award, and two student groups were presented with the Angela R. Andersen Memorial Award, created to honor students who demonstrate deep commitment to issues impacting refugees and immigrants.
Sixth-graders from the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication in New London were recognized for their project, “Community Faces-Humanizing the Immigrant Label,” parts of which were on display at the Capitol. The second group was Teens4Citizenship, a Hartford Public Library and Hartford Public Schools collaborative program. As "Citizenship Guides," these high school immigrant students support family and community members on the path to Citizenship and upon turning 18 pursue their own citizenship.
Member organizations in the Connecticut Immigrant & Refugee Coalition include: Milan Cultural India Association, Polish American Foundation of CT, The American Place at the Hartford Public Library, Catholic Charities Migration Services, Connecticut Coalition of Mutual Assistance, Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford, Legal Assistance Resource Center, Center for Urban Research, Education and Training, Pakistani American Association of CT, Hellenic Society of Paideia and World Affairs Council of Connecticut.