A Star Marianas pilot who hails from Armenia was among 19 individuals who were sworn in yesterday as new U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. District Court for the NMI.
Alexander Kochikyan, 33, just arrived on Saipan last May to work as a pilot. Once he finishes his contract with Star Marianas, he plans to go back to the U.S. mainland.
Kochikyan used to play the violin as a musician in Armenia. He was a political asylee in Los Angeles, California, where he lived for 10 years before coming to Saipan.
Kochikyan said that when he first arrived in Los Angeles, he found out that being a musician was not practical for him. “I had to practice a lot. I invested a lot of time and effort, and it does not bring enough results,” he said. That’s when he decided to become a pilot. He held a green card for five years before applying for citizenship.
For Maria Cecilia Obaldo, 53, who originally came from Cavite in the Philippines, obtaining her U.S. citizenship is a happy occasion considering that she has lived on Saipan for nearly three decades now. Obaldo first came to Saipan in 1991 when she worked as an accountant at Pioneer.
She obtained her green card through her daughter, who is turning 27 and is with the U.S. Army.
At present, Obaldo manages the Blue Haus Wholesaler and Retailer in Garapan.
For Watchareepron Ontree, a native of Thailand, the occasion makes her both excited and a little nervous too. Ontree, 24, arrived on Saipan in 2011 after her mother, a green card holder, petitioned her. She just finished this year her associate degree in accounting at the Northern Marianas College. Ontree said she is now planning to work for an accounting or banking company on the island.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Magistrate Judge Heather L. Kennedy presided over the naturalization ceremony. Most of the new citizens are from the Philippines and the rest are from Armenia, Thailand, South Korea, and Canada.
Kennedy urged the new citizens to consider one very important thing—to register to vote. Being registered voters not only gives them a voice in the community, but lets them have an impact in the judicial system, she said.
She said the court takes jurors from the voters’ list.
“Serving as a jury is an interesting and important process to ensure equal justice for all citizens and non-citizens alike,” she said.
Kennedy said they need the new citizens to serve as jurors in this court because diversity not only strengthens the community but the American judicial system.
She said that jurors from various cultural ethnic background provide equality and foster balance in the judicial system.
“It is an important task and an extremely rewarding one. So register to vote and enjoy serving your nation, its judicial system, and this particular court,” Kennedy said.
She had three messages for the new citizens: to enjoy the holiday season, to focus on what they have in common, and to do what they can, whether large or small, to contribute “to this wonderful diverse community.”
Immigration Services officer Shelia Kelty, who has been on Saipan for five years and is leaving the CNMI for re-assignment duty in Houston, served as the guest speaker at the ceremony.
Kelty said the new citizens have taken so many chances in their journey—becoming business owners, going to college, becoming advocates. These things may not have been possible had the new citizens not chosen to come to the CNMI, Kelty said.
“Today you’ve taken another chance, you’ve taken an oath to be loyal to a country not of birth but of love,” she said. “So as you begin your journey as U.S. citizens, I encourage you, challenging you even, to continue to take chances. The best is yet to come.”
The other new naturalized U.S. citizens are Grace Milad Brooks, Monica Joy Estacio Canete, Violeta Masanque Centeno, Patrick Delfin Fernandez, Rodolfo Pascual Feliciano, Noli Dominico Feria, Greg Hitigan Gapor, Han Yoo Lee, Simeon Delgado Maalihan, Girlie Sison Pangelinan, Rey Bation Pestillos, Mary Ann Salvador Reyes, Samson Fernandez Salgado, Magdalena Orbino Santoceldes, Glenn Alan Smith, and Elizabeth Bartolome Torres.