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Celebrating citizenship

Greenfield woman describes her family’s move from China to new home in US

Guihua Song, a naturalized citizen from China, with tutor Marie Bartlett in the Center for new Americans in Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Guihua Song, a naturalized citizen from China, with tutor Marie Bartlett in the Center for new Americans in Greenfield. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

GREENFIELD — Guihua “Nancy” Song traveled to New York City in February 2007 from China, leaving behind her family, in pursuit of America’s many freedoms and way of life.

“The United States is a very nice country,” Song said. “In China, there are a lot of people and it’s very urban. This country is very free. You can have free speech and choose any job anywhere.”

Song, now a Greenfield resident and U.S. citizen, has been on the journey that ends today for about 50 immigrants who will take the oath of allegiance to the United States to become America’s newest citizens. The ceremony is on the grounds of the Hampshire County Superior Courthouse in Northampton. The event, now in its sixth year, is the only naturalization ceremony in western Massachusetts this year.

Fifty-one-year-old Song knows what it takes to become a naturalized citizen. She did not know English or anything about this country’s culture when she arrived. In March 2007, she attended a Chinese career center in New York City, where she obtained a job with China Gourmet in Greenfield.

In China, she had worked in a jewelry factory and owned a restaurant with her husband.

She arrived soon after in Franklin County — a place quite different from the crowded streets of China.

“It’s very quiet and beautiful,” Song said. “People are very nice and friendly. Everyone is always smiling.”

A co-worker at China Gourmet recommended Song attend the Center for New Americans on Federal Street, which offers free English classes for adult immigrants.

The Center for New Americans is a community-based, nonprofit adult education center that provides the under-served immigrant, refugee and migrant communities of the Pioneer Valley with education and resources to learn English, become involved community members and obtain tools necessary to maintain economic independence and stability.

The center, which has offices in Greenfield, Northampton, Amherst and Turners Falls, assists immigrants in obtaining their citizenship. It provides information about citizenship eligibility and the application process as well as classes in citizenship and English and tutors.

Although Song originally attended the morning English classes intermittently, by 2009, she was attending four days per week.

Song’s family quickly followed her to the new country. Song’s son enrolled in the University of New Hampshire and in 2009 her husband also arrived in Greenfield. He now works as a cook at the University of Massachusetts.

Over the years, Song steadily worked toward several goals. Song now works at the University of Massachusetts for dining services. She is also registered to vote in Greenfield, obtained her green card, has a driver’s license and owns a home in Greenfield.

A year and a half ago, Song began to pursue the next step in her American immersion — citizenship. She began working with Marie Bartlett of Leyden to prepare for the citizenship test and hone her English-speaking skills. Bartlett is a teacher who holds several workshops in schools focusing on literacy and geography skills.

First, Song had to complete a 22-page application. Then, she practiced 100 questions about American civics and history for the naturalization test. Test takers are required to pass six out of a random 10 questions.

To prepare, Bartlett helped Song know the answers to all 100 questions.

After the test, Song had to do a 10-minute interview where she had to read aloud and write three different sentences to test for her proficiency in English.

Song successfully completed the three steps and earned her citizenship. On March 25, Song was naturalized in Lowell with 800 people.

Waiting for her was a traditional American apple pie Bartlett made with an imprint of an American flag.

“It’s a happy time. I feel such a sense of pride in my community,” Bartlett said. “It feels like this is our country helping people.”

For more information on the center’s citizenship services, contact Maureen McMahon, Center for New Americans Citizenship Coordinator at 413-587-0084 or visit www.cnam.org.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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