On a chilly day in late September, the United States added 95 new citizens of choice from 31 nations of their birth – from Algeria to Yemen in global alphabetical order – with U.S. District Judge James Shadid of Peoria administering the oath of citizenship.
The naturalization ceremony had been on hiatus the last few years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Often a large and emotionally moving affair, this one – held on the back deck of Peoria Riverfront Museum with the majestic Illinois River and Murray Baker Bridge in the background — was no exception for those who in some instances had waited decades for their chance to be called an American.
One such was Justyna Huszaluk, 43, who grew up in Lublin, Poland and first came to the United States in her early 20s.
“Back in Poland, there is huge admiration for the United States of America. I just came to visit then. I came to love the States,” she said.
A resident of Dunlap, she met her husband here – Manhal “Mike” Abboud, a U.S. citizen and military veteran originally from Iraq – and gave birth to her now 6-year-old son Hassan here.
“I don’t think I would have predicted it, to be honest. Life takes us by surprise,” said Justyna.
Two years ago, she applied for citizenship, but then came some “bumps in the road.” While awaiting her papers, with her husband of 16 years deployed overseas, a family tragedy returned her to Poland for a time. The naturalization ceremony culminated quite the journey.
“I’m finally completing my story here. The judge’s speech made me tear up, really,” Justyna said. “The weight of it … In a good way, it made me realize it’s been a long way. It’s kind of like this cherry on top. I’m feeling very moved.”
At the ceremony, Judge Shadid shared his own family’s immigration story and spoke of “the promise of America: Out of many, one.” Pierre Paul – native of Guyana, Bradley University graduate, founder and CEO of We Hear You LLC in Peoria and a relatively new U.S. citizen himself – welcomed the assembled “to a country where you will learn, but you will also teach … The process is not always simple … The process is not always kind … But the process always leads you to a beautiful place.”
‘The weight of it … made me realize it’s been a long way’
— Justyna Huszaluk
Collectively, the new Americans then took their oath, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and one by one walked to the stage to accept their certificate of citizenship. One noted that “it’s been 63 years.” There were hugs all around, several snapped photos to commemorate the moment, and many then lined up to register to vote.
It was quite a day.