Written by David Benson Thursday, May 01, 2014 11:48 am
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CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – Twenty-one people from 16 different countries took an oath to support and defend the United States as new citizens at 9:50 a.m. on Thursday, May 1, at the William E. Sturm Administration Building.
One of the new citizens, a 25-year-old private in the New Jersey National Guard and a resident of North Cape May, began her journey four years ago, when she left her family in Ivye, Belarus with nothing more than her luggage, a photo of a woman she’d never met, and a dream of working in America.
This weekend, Pvt. 1st Class Viktoryia Belahryvaya, North Cape May, will visit her family in Belarus for the first time since she left country of birth, and she’ll do it as newly-sworn U.S. citizen.
“When I left Belarus, I had a picture of the best friend of my cousin’s friend,” Belahryvaya said, after the naturalization ceremony. “We had never met, but we had pictures of each other.”
Belahryvaya, who was then 21, left her sister and parents and sought adventure overseas. Although she flew into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Belahryvaya said she had no intention of staying there.
New Jersey had always been her goal.
“I met the woman in the airport, and she put me on a bus to Cape May,” Belahryvaya said. “She told me there were jobs down there.”
It would take a month for Belahryvaya to find work at the Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May. By then, she was down to her last $10, and living on beans and ketchup.
Yet, Belahryvaya never considered leaving. She loved southern New Jersey, and made it her home. A few years later, the young woman swore an oath to defend the United States when joined the state National Guard, where she earned a medal for her marksmanship.
But Belahryvaya still wasn’t a citizen.
That changed on Thursday, when Belahryvaya and 20 other people from around the world stood before Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez and took the Naturalization Oath.
Mendez, born in Cuba, is also a naturalized citizen, and this was the first time he had ever given the oath to new citizens.
“I do not have to imagine what it means for each of you because I know how you feel,” Mendez said. “I am too, a proud naturalized citizen of this great nation. I know that today is one of the most important days of your lives.”
Addressing the crowd of about 100 people who attended the ceremony, Mendez urged the newly-sworn citizens to take part in every part of being a citizen, including running for public office, serving in the military or voting.
The newly sworn citizens, most residents of Cape May or Atlantic county, were able to register to vote immediately following the ceremony.
Also sworn in at the ceremony were: Patty Estefania Ruiz, Joel Cruz Tagle, Yu Juan Tan, Cyndi Khuu, Adriana Garmarra, Berrin Geylani, Angela Maria Zapata Villada, Hocine Mallaoui, Flor Mila Huayhua Cruzado, Maria Mercedes Rodriguez Prieto, John Christopher Devlin, Danilo Antonio Mella, Adbulah Bukhsh, Randy Paulino Medina, Vasil Mariyanov Georgiev, Anne Marie Bernadette Fala, Ala Aleksashina, Alberto Jimenez Ortiz, Pierrena Thomas and Maxim Alexeevich Shalnov.