Postcards from the naturalization: Speaking with Berkshire County’s newest American citizens
Dozens of immigrants became U.S. citizens on October 12th at a naturalization ceremony at the historic Naumkeag estate in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The event was hosted by the Berkshire Immigrant Center, which provides resources and support to hundreds of foreign-born county residents every year. WAMC was there, and shared this audio postcard.
CHATANI-GODA: My name is Manju Dayal Chatani-Goda. That's my new name, Dayal Chatani-Gada.
WAMC: Why the new name? What's the old name?
CHATANI-GODA: Well, we've been married 14 years and I kept my name. And I said, when I naturalize, I will do the hyphenation. So, it's official. I'm actually married to him now.
GODA: First name is Monty, last name is Gada.
WAMC: So obviously an exciting day. What does it feel like? I mean, this is a big moment in your lives right now.
GODA: It's a little surreal. We've been married since 2008, and that was the same year that I was naturalized, in fact. So, this is a really a dream that has been finally realized. I couldn't be more proud, and I feel like I have a partner now who can help cast our votes and elect those who we feel strongest that will represent our values and the values of those that we care about. So, it's a very happy and humbling day at the same time.
So where were you naturalized from? What’s your country of origin?
CHATANI-GODA: I did both my degrees here, my undergraduate, my master’s. I came back and worked here. And I've lived in many countries- I kind of see myself as a global nomad. And I said, oh, eventually I will. And then I turned 50 and I realized, well, this is my country, this is where I'm going to live, and I really want to participate a lot more in what it means to be American. And also of late, there has been so much said about immigrants and the way immigrants are treated, and I really wanted to take a stand in a much more strong way and I wanted my voice to be heard. So I decided, well, this is the time. And so, I want to vote for the next President, I want to vote for my state. And I thought, Okay, I'm going to do it. And so, no better time
Since 2008- It's been a whirlwind 14 years since then. I mean, what's it been like waiting and having this ambiguity hanging over you?
GODA: Well, needless to say, there was a particular administration that we were so disappointed and disheartened to be governed by, and it really felt as though that this dream wouldn't be realized under that administration. And I am grateful to the universe and to the goddesses who removed that administration as quickly as possible, and it was the collective consciousness that helped make that happen. So, we are once again part and parcel of that collective consciousness who's ready to bring in a new era into this country and also on the world stage, which, we desperately need to reenter the world stage as a collaborative partner, not as an adversary, as, unfortunately, the previous administration has painted us as.
CHATANI-GODA: My dad is from India, my mom is from Sri Lanka. But we moved to Ghana and West Africa, and that's where I was born and brought up. Hence the global nomad. This notion that immigrants are coming to this country to take, to just use welfare service here, to take other people's jobs- And all I know is immigrant families who have built everything I have been around. Everybody I work with works really hard, no matter which country they originally came from. I work in an NGO, I have my whole life. I work on HIV. My husband is an immigrant, he works with homeless vets. And I just see the strength of people bringing their values from their communities, their culture, to build here. And on the news, when I hear the way immigrants are described, it confuses me, because this country was made of immigrants. And what is the difference of the new immigrants versus the immigrants who came here originally? We're all just looking to improve our lives, build our communities, and make something great of this world. And it's really hard as an immigrant, to hear these negative notions. It doesn't matter how much money you have. There seems to be a difference about which country you come from, or how much education you bring here. These are people who are making very hard decisions sometimes to come here, and it's a real shame that this country was built on immigrants and yet immigrants are demonized in so many places. And really, that's what I'm trying to do, is have my voice with the millions and millions and millions of immigrants who all they want to do is work hard and make this country better.