SALEM — Hope is what continues to push Naomie Pama to accomplish her goals.

Five years ago, she left the Republic of the Congo to pursue an education in the U.S. The 32-year-old Beverly resident now works at Beverly Hospital and is studying at North Shore Community College to become a surgical technician.

On Tuesday, Pama joined 29 other immigrants who were sworn in as U.S. citizens Tuesday in a naturalization ceremony overlooking Salem Harbor at The House of the Seven Gables. 

“I left my home to give myself more opportunities,” said Pama, who plans to return to her native country and motivate young students. “Life is hard back there, but there is always hope.”

More than 70 people gathered Tuesday to celebrate and welcome the new citizens — representing 19 countries. Federal Judge Frank Bailey presided over the ceremony, where each citizen held up their right hand and took the Oath of Allegiance before reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. 

“We’re not all the same,” said Bailey. “But here in the U.S., that’s what makes us strong.”

In his remarks, he said his grandmother came to the U.S. from Ireland. One of the privileges of his job is being able to participate in ceremonies like these, he says.

For Marilyn Cabrera, 26, the naturalization ceremony came six years after leaving her home in the Dominican Republic. 

“I wanted to go to college,” said Cabrera, who now works as a nurse for those with dementia.

The Beverly resident also attends North Shore Community College, saying she hopes to become a police officer one day. Her mother, father and brother also live nearby.

Held by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, The House of the Seven Gables hosts the annual ceremony. Each of the new citizens completed English and history classes sponsored by home's settlement association, which has assisted immigrant families for nearly a century.

Kara McLaughlin, executive director of The House of the Seven Gables, said the ceremony location at the historic Salem site was “fitting” considering the home's history. Built more than 350 years ago, she said generations of Turner and Ingersoll families lived there before the property served as a source of inspiration to author Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

About 100 years ago, the city of Salem experienced a wave of immigrants who came to work in the mills, which McLaughlin gestured to as the buildings across the harbor. The settlement program was established to support the growing immigrant population.

“I thank you for the time you took to become citizens of this country and I congratulate you,” she said to the crowd before applause erupted.

Opportunities and freedom

Mirek Vana of Czechoslovakia came to America 22 years ago to study guitar at Berklee College of Music, where he now works. Living in Beverly, he said with a smile how the ceremony was "very great."

Accompanied by her husband and four children, Aluel Ngueny, 27, of South Sudan followed her husband to the U.S. four years ago.

“I’m so excited to be an American citizen,” added the Haverhill resident.

During her remarks, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll told the crowd how she is the daughter of a naturalized U.S. citizen. Her mother was born in Grenada and grew up in Trinidad.

“She took a test just like yours and was worried about passing it,” added the mayor.

Driscoll also noted how the ceremony is part of this year’s Welcoming Week, which recognizes the contributions of immigrants in Salem throughout the week.

“Having a thriving immigrant community is key to having a thriving city,” said Driscoll.

Alexandra Ramirez, a 31-year-old from the Dominican Republic, said her citizenship will allow her to study for a new career. The mother of two moved to the U.S. to be with her husband. Now residing in Lawrence, she hopes to become a chef one day.

Holding on to his new certificate of citizenship, Viriato Goncalves, 47, said this ceremony came 14 years after leaving his home in Cape Verde. He currently works as a painter in Methuen and has family in the area.

“I love America,” he said while walking over to the booth to register to vote.

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or adiamantides@salemnews.com.

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