By: John Asbury, Newsday

(Central Islip, N.Y., May 3, 2022) – Growing up in Ukraine, Olha Torska watched American television as a girl and dreamed of becoming a U.S. citizen.

On Tuesday, she realized her dream when she was among 240 Long Islanders sworn in as citizens by federal judges at a naturalization ceremony at the Long Island Ducks’ Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip.

Torska, 28, of Copiague, says it hurts to watch her homeland being attacked, though she believes she can do more for her family and friends from abroad, including sending them support and information about the war.

She says she recently applied for citizenship after living in the United States for six years, having applied for a green card at age 18 while in Ukraine.

“The American life seemed so cool and then I came here, I realized what I dreamed of was the same and I was not disappointed,” Torska said. “This is one of my greatest dreams come true.”

Judge Joseph Bianco, of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and judges from the U.S. Eastern District swore in as citizens individuals from 51 countries. Tuesday’s ceremony was held simultaneously with another swearing-in for 250 citizens at the Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark.

Bianco said it was the first outdoor naturalization in Suffolk County, and it was part of Law Day events nationwide to promote a better understanding of legal proceedings.

He says he hopes to bring the ceremony to Long Island schools so “students can witness and feel the inspirational and powerful moment when someone is told, ‘You are now an American’ and tears of joy flow from their eyes. There’s nothing more meaningful than that.”

Immigrants from nations ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen filled two sections along the first baseline while bagpipes played “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” followed by a color guard from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The new citizens raised their hands and took the oath of citizenship, and were then presented with miniature American flags by students from the East Islip Middle School choir.

“My friends, as you sit there now, you are an American. The United States of America is as much your country as it is our country. Don’t ever forget that and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Bianco told the new citizens and their families. 

Alejandro Del Valle Gorgoy, a Carle Place firefighter, said he had been waiting for more than 15 years to gain his citizenship after immigrating from Cuba to Costa Rica and then to Florida.

He worked as an ambulance EMT in Brentwood and a firefighter paramedic in Carle Place. He said he applied for his citizenship two years ago before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the process.

“I feel like I belong to something for the first time ever and to be an American citizen means freedom of speech and religion,” he said. “It’s a great feeling. A lot of countries don’t have that freedom.”