When Putnam County Legislature Chairman Joseph Castellano was asked to speak at the Dec. 11 naturalization ceremony at the Historic Courthouse in Carmel, he jumped at the opportunity.
“Without a doubt my favorite day of the month, the year, is naturalization day,” said Castellano, who works in the Westchester County Clerk’s Office by day. “It is always thrilling to watch all the new citizens join us in the greatest nation on the planet.”
The ceremony welcomed 49 new U.S. citizens, as individuals took the oath of allegiance to a resounding applause from friends and family. They join those of us – like Castellano – who are citizens by birthright, and those of us – like his parents – who worked hard to earn their citizenship.
Both Castellano’s parents were born in Italy during World War II. At an early age, his father decided he wanted to move to America. He emigrated through Argentina, where he lived for 12 years before he was able to come to White Plains in 1960.
Castellano’s mother’s family came directly to Westchester from Italy.
In the 1960s the two met, “and 51 years ago today I was born in White Plains,” he said.
Castellano recalled a cherished upbringing.
“We were a multi-cultural family before there were multi-cultural families, and it was a great childhood,” he said, noting that one parent spoke Spanish while the other spoke Italian.
“My father would tell me to be very proud of where we came from, to honor and remember the traditions of where you came from, honor your family’s past and realize that this nation will provide incredible opportunities for the future – and he would tell me not to screw it up. He loved this country, he really did.”
Castellano said that looking out at all the candidates for citizenship was emotional and personal for him.
“On March 10, 1993 in White Plains, my parents sat in the same seats you sit in today; they became citizens of the United States of America, and I am very proud of that,” he said. “They came her with little, and they made a great life for me and my family.”
The legislator said he is confident all the people sitting before him would do the same.
“I thank you for immigrating to this nation,” he said. “Please help us make it better. It’s a great nation; it’s in good hands.”
Putnam County Clerk Michael Bartolotti brought naturalization ceremonies back to Putnam County his first year in office.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to see all the candidates here who have gone through this long and arduous journey,” he said. “I am so honored to stand before a room full of candidates a few times a year and administer the oath of allegiance as they become citizens. In my life it is just the most humbling experience I have ever had.”
The Hon. Thomas Zugibe of the Ninth Judicial District served as the officiating Supreme Court justice for the occasion.
“Many Americans take citizenship for granted, and that’s because it came easy for many of us,” he said.
Zugibe is a third-generation American.
“We didn’t have to pass a test, we didn’t have to study the Constitution, we didn’t have to demonstrate that we could speak English,” he said. “But this is your dream. You’ve planed, you worked hard, you studied, you earned it… From now on, when someone asks you what your nationality is, smile and say those wonderful words: ‘I’m an American.”