March 6, 2019, was one the most special days in Carmelinda Hercules’ life.
On that day, the Wheeling Park High School custodian traveled to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Pittsburgh where she officially became a United States citizen. The Palermo, Italy, native beamed with pride, and she could not contain her excitement as she discussed the ceremony.
“I was just so happy,” she said. “Everyone was so nice to me. I just couldn’t believe it was happening. It was such a wonderful feeling.”
Hercules came to the United States nearly 20 years ago. She came to this country with her first and now former husband, Vince Messina, who has dual American-Italian citizenship. The couple resided in New Jersey for many years with their two sons and daughter.
Hercules and her first husband ultimately divorced. He moved to Cameron where he lives with the three children he shares with Hercules. She eventually met and married Wheeling Park High School custodian, Eugene Hercules, and the couple resides in Triadelphia.
Upon her arrival in the United States, she did not know how to speak English. She credits her children and their favorite television programs for teaching her what is now her most used language.
“I learned English from SpongeBob and Dora (The Explorer),” Hercules said. “I memorized English one word at a time. My children would ask me for something like water, and I would have to remember the word for water. I just kept learning the words, and that’s how I learned to speak English.”
Hercules has worked as a custodian at Wheeling Park High School for a little more than a year now. She has grown quite close to her coworkers. She credits those employees for helping her and encouraging her when she decided to seek U.S. citizenship. Hercules said she had doubts as to whether she would be successful in passing the naturalization exam, which included oral and written components.
“I was so scared and nervous,” she said. “People here (at Wheeling Park) were so nice and helped me study. I had to learn so much about American history and government. There were questions about presidents and the constitution. I didn’t think I was going to pass, but when I did, I was so overwhelmed.”
Hercules has not been to Italy in about nine years. Her parents and two brothers still live there. She keeps in regular contact with her brothers, and she remains especially close to her mother.
“We speak to each other every day on FaceTime,” Hercules said.
Although she misses her family in Italy, she feels like she’s made a new family at Wheeling Park High School. She said she couldn’t be happier.
“It is my second home,” Hercules said. “I love it here. There is so much support. Being here has been a beautiful experience. I’m blessed.”
Photo 1: Wheeling Park High School custodian Carmelinda Hercules is shown just moments after earning her U.S. citizenship.