New citizens

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Community News Group / Alexandra Simon|Community News Group / Alexandra Simon|Community News Group / Alexandra Simon|Community News Group / Alexandra Simon

They can now call it home!

Dozens of candidates for citizenship became American citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the historic Wyckoff House Museum in East Flatbush on June 15. Many of the new nationals were thrilled to reach this accomplishment, particularly those who waited many years, said one woman who came to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago.

“I feel wonderful — it’s been a long time coming,” said Vanessa Rawlins. “I should’ve done it a long time ago but better later than never, and it’s a great feeling.”

Rawlins came to the states as a child in the late seventies, and said seeing her parents thrive inspired her to follow their footsteps and make the country her permanent home because it was the country where she grew up.

Hyphenated American: Originally from Jamaica, Nicole Downing, right, smiles with her citizenship certificate with a relative and her daughter at the ceremony.
Community News Group / Alexandra Simon

“My parents brought us here when we were young and taught us to prosper wherever we are, and they made it here and they really did well as people coming from the West Indies with pretty much no educational background,” said Rawlins. “The way I saw how they were able to prosper, I figured I’m going to do same thing for myself because I have children, and a grandson, and this is best place to be on earth.”

About 49 people originating from 20 countries read the oath of allegiance to fulfil the last step in the citizenship process. Many were from the Caribbean, hailing from Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago.

Having the ceremony at the Wyckoff House was an appropriate place to hold the ceremony because it was one of the oldest houses in the country, built in 1652 by a Dutch settler who immigrated to then formerly called New Amsterdam, said Melissa Branfman, executive director of the museum. It also represents one of the finest symbols of immigration in the borough, she added.

“Today the house remains a part of a vibrant and diverse community of immigrants and in past decade we have welcomed 150 new citizens here to take the same oath and become naturalized citizens, today you join them,” said Branfman. “We share with you the past of this house and its inhabitants, so do we celebrate our shared future together as fellow citizens.”

My fellow Americans: United States District Court Judge Vera M. Scanlon speaks to 49 candidates for citizenship at the Wyckoff House Museum in East Flatbush.
Community News Group / Alexandra Simon

Each new citizen stood up to represent their country and read their oath with United States District Judge Vera M. Scanlon, who echoed Branfman.

“I hope you’re proud to celebrate your new citizenship at a place with so much history kept alive,” she said.

She encouraged the naturalized citizens to learn more about the old house and use the full potential of their new rights to their benefit.

“You’ll find instructive examples of ways to carry out the oath that you just took today, to support and to defend the constitution and the laws of the United States,” said Scanlon. “Some of the first steps that I think you’ll find — would be go to voting booths and cast your ballots. Consider being politically active and run for office. You couldn’t five minutes ago, now you can.”

Cassandra Dawkins also from Jamaica shows off her certificate verifying her United States citizenship.
Community News Group / Alexandra Simon

The new citizens read the pledge of allegiance before being presented with their naturalization certificates by Judge Scanlon.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at