New Americans Give Thanks and Look Back


The weather may have been gloomy on Thursday but the smiles on the ten recently naturalized citizens lit up The Great Hall on Ellis Island.

The National Ethic Coalition of Organizations, known as NECO, teamed up with the Immigration Advocacy Services and the New York Immigration Coalition to honor the new Americans at a pre-Thanksgiving dinner to honor the newest Americans, the first of its kind.

Ten different stories gathered around the table and came together as a family. The recently naturalized citizens came from places such as Columbia, Algeria, Cuba, Taiwan and Serbia.

Before the feast, the new Americans were given certificates to hang in their homes as symbols of their struggles to become citizens.

Danijela Skopljak, 32, had to move a couple of times before she could call the United States home.

“I had a perfect life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but when war came nothing was the same as before,” she said. “People changed, poverty increased, educational opportunities decreased. My family and I immigrated to Serbia, but the economic situation in Serbia was no better. My parents struggled to get jobs to feed me and my younger brother and sister. Those were very difficult times for my family and me.”

Skopljak wasn’t the only one trying to escape the conditions in her country. Leonardo Gomez remembers not having anything in Cuba and had to wait before his family was allowed to leave Cuba.

“My father, who opposed Communism, was sent to a work camp, he cut banana trees down for 12-14 hours a day. He was told if he spent five years in the camp, he could leave Cuba.”

Gomez’s family left Cuba in 1971. “America has allowed me to fulfill my dreams,” Gomez said. “I have been able to accomplish things that I have never dreamed possible.”

Between the time Ellis Island was up and running from 1892 to 1954, about 12 million immigrants passed through the island. Over 100 million people living in the United States can trace their ancestry to immigrants twho entered the United States through this storied portal.

NECO’s luncheon surrounded the new Americans with people that also went through the naturalization. Many different nationalities came to together and traded stories. Skopljak joked “I may get naturalized again next year so I can come back.”

Unspoken but hovering over the table filled with turkey and wine and other good things were the spirits of Syrian migrants.

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