KENNEBUNK — Vicente Merejildo’s family wasn’t poor compared to others in her native country, the Dominican Republic. But her children’s school there had no roof, so when it rained, classes had to be canceled.

Merejildo, now 48, was the first in her family to move to the United States in 2001, joined afterward by her son and daughter in 2005. They initially lived in New York before she settled permanently in Maine.

“It was her idea to come here, to get better jobs and education,” said Merejildo’s son, Endy Garcia.

It was also Merejildo’s idea that she and her children apply to become American citizens. Her daughter, 26-year-old Wendy Garcia, was the first in the family to become an American. Endy Garcia, 25, became a U.S. citizen four months ago at a ceremony at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

Friday was Merejildo’s turn. She became one of 73 Maine residents from 33 countries to raise their right hands and repeat the Oath of Allegiance at a ceremony at the Middle School of the Kennebunks.

“Only three people in our family are citizens, so it’s a big deal for us. It’s a big day,” said Endy Garcia, who attended the swearing-in ceremony with his mother and translated for her. “Here, there are jobs, opportunities. There (in the Dominican Republic), there are no jobs.”

Merejildo’s dreams for her children all those years ago came true. Her son graduated from Scarborough High School and attends Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, where she now lives. Endy Garcia has worked as a home attendant for the past four years. Wendy Garcia, who was unable to attend the ceremony, now lives in New York.

“I wouldn’t have a car or an apartment, nothing like that,” Endy Garcia said of life in the Dominican Republic. “The same thing with my mother. She has a car, an apartment. The only way we go back is to see family.”

After the naturalization ceremony, Merejildo stood with the other new citizens as they were applauded by a crowd of several hundred family members, friends and students and faculty members gathered in the school’s gymnasium. The Middle School of the Kennebunks band and chorus performed.

U.S. Sen. Angus King Jr., I-Maine, delivered the keynote speech, asking those in the room who were immigrants or descendants of immigrants to stand. The entire crowd, all those who were able to stand, stood up.

“We all, all of us, came from people who were immigrants. That’s what’s magical, that’s what’s unusual and different about this country,” King said.

The new citizens sworn in Friday came to the U.S. from around the world – as far away as Azerbaijan and India, and as close by as Canada and Jamaica. They spoke a bounty of languages, hailed from six of the world’s seven continents and represented a broad range of ethnicities.

Some, like 22-year-old Emily Carr of England, have lived in the United States so long that their accents were distinctly American.

Carr is a senior at Bowdoin College studying psychology and education. She attended the naturalization ceremony with a throng of friends from Bowdoin who came to cheer her on.

Although she is originally from Newcastle, England, Carr has lived in the United States longer than she did in the United Kingdom. Her father works for an American oil company, and while growing up she lived at times in Norway, the Czech Republic and Indonesia, but mostly in the U.S.

“This is where my friends are. This is where I went to school. I’d like to give back to the community where I grew up in. I’ve spent more time in the United States than anywhere else,” Carr said.

Carr’s younger sister was born in the U.S. and has dual citizenship. But Carr was the first member of her family to go through the naturalization process. Her parents currently live in Australia, but she said they hope to follow her to apply for U.S. citizenship.

“It’s huge. It makes everything so much easier from here on out,” Carr said. “I’m really excited.”

Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:

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Twitter: @scottddolan