"In many ways, Jose Marti symbolizes the principles and values that make our nation's democracy a model for others to emulate," said Mayor Brian Stack last week. "Union City continues to be the home of many Cuban Americans, and in our celebration, we unite with this community and pay tribute to one of Latin America's greatest freedom heroes."
Beginning on Friday, Jan. 27, the city kicked off its celebration with a flag-raising ceremony at International Park, 3700 Palisade Ave.
Oath of freedom
On Tuesday, Jan. 31, 17 Union City and surrounding Hudson County residents took the oath of U.S. Citizenship at the local Jose Marti Middle School, 1800 Summit Ave. This one-time service was offered there for the first time in Union City by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration and Naturalization Services.
"It was a special request to the Department of Immigration, and we try to accommodate and be a part of every community," said Gwen Turner-Brown, a supervisor for Citizenship and Naturalization Services. "This is my first time in Union City, but I've passed by it many times. The people are very friendly."
Turner-Brown, who has been administering the oath of citizenship for over 10 years, feels that the oath ceremony is the best part of the department's services.
"It's [the final step] in a beautiful journey and fulfilling their dream," said Turner-Brown.
Joining these 17 citizens-to-be were Mayor Brian Stack, and Commissioners Chris Irizarry, and Margie Bombino.
"Congratulations to all the new citizens to be; it's a tremendous to have you here [in Union City], and it's a tremendous honor to have you in this school, which is named for a man who fought for democracy," said Stack.
Approximately 35,000 to 40,000 immigrant-residents take the oath of citizenship each year at the Office of Immigration and Naturalization Services, which is based in Newark. Newark holds two ceremonies and serves about 150 people a day.
"I am very happy and proud; I've been in this country for 27 years," said Edward Dunn Tolbert, who is from Liberin, South Africa and now resides in North Bergen.
The first thing Tolbert plans to do is visit his home, where they've also broken barriers and elected the first female president of South Africa.
"I am very happy; I have been waiting for this for a long time," said Ana Castano, who is from Colombia and resides in West New York.
Castano passed her citizenship exam a year ago after being a resident for 17 years, but had not been called to take the oath until today. Despite the small setback, Castano is excited and anticipates her new role as a citizen.
"Lets see how my life changes now that I can vote, which is the most important thing for me," said Castano.
That same evening at 7 p.m., Union City hosted its final celebration of the week with "Inspirations of Jose Marti" which featured performances by the girls of Oneida's Dance Studio, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary; poetry readings by renowned poet Jesus "Jay" Gonzales; and the unveiling of a Jose Marti bust donated to the school by the Beltra family, and the rendering of the future Jose Marti Park.
For the celebration, Gonzales, who recently received a city proclamation for artist of the year, recited the poem entitled "La Nina de Guatemala" by Jose Marti.
"He was a genius and his lyrics were fantastic; Jose Marti did so many things, from poetry and plays to children's books," said Gonzales. "Jose Marti was a great patriot; there are just no words to express how great."
The students of Jose Marti Middle School also did their part in the celebration with performances of Celia Cruz's classic hits "Guantanamera" and "Almendra."
Some of the newly sworn citizens from that morning attended the festivities as well, and enjoyed an evening of live music and Cuban food.
Later that evening, the community of Jose Marti Middle School presented the Mendosa family of Union City as the winner of the "Canastilla Martiana"/Layette Drive prize gift package for having the first infant in Union City born on or near Jose Marti's birthday, which is Jan. 28.
"I am so happy, and very grateful to [the community of] Jose Marti Middle School," said Maribel Mendosa, whose son Kevin Geovany was born at 1:28 a.m. last Monday.
Sponsored by the Jose Marti Center for Multicultural Education, the "Canastilla Martiana"/Layette Drive was able to collect a number baby clothes, basinets, cribs, formulas and much more since January thanks to donations from the public schools and local businesses like Casa Manito and Vidal's Creations.