May 4, 2013

New citizen: 'now the United States are my home'

Forty-five people from other lands take the oath of allegiance and become U.S. citizens.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Kandok Ring smiles for a family photo after his mother, Nybol Lual, originally of Sudan, became a U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony on Friday at Portland High School.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized 45 new U.S. citizens on Friday during a ceremony at Portland High School.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

"The world is not perfect. The U.S. is not perfect," Wilson said, "but we can work hard to make it the best place it can be."

People do not erase their pasts when they become citizens, said Andjelko Napijalo, a Portland police officer who watched as his parents were naturalized Friday. Like him, they had been citizens of the former Yugoslavia when it disintegrated into civil war. As animosities erupted, they left behind their homes and everything they had spent a lifetime building.

"They came to this country with 300 bucks in their pocket," he said, then immediately started rebuilding their lives.

Napijalo is proud of his heritage and proud of the resilience his aprents showed in relocating and learning a new language. For them, he said, the citizenship ceremony was an affirmation that their English skills had progressed to where they could join American society in full measure.

The collection of immigrants all raised their right hands and took the oath of allegiance. The audience, made up of Portland High students and the new citizens' family members, erupted into applause.

As the ceremony closed to more applause, the naturalized Americans waved small American flags and posed for pictures with their citizenship certificates.

The ceremony was emotional, and not just for them.

"I had tears in my eyes," said Portland High School Principal Deborah Migneault, a former social studies teacher whose French-Canadian ancestors moved to Maine. The ceremony was a powerful reminder of how fortunate Americans are and how many take that for granted, she said.

Sheila Casey wiped away tears after the ceremony. Clutching a bouquet of red and yellow tulips, she explained how she came here from Scotland 47 years ago and met her husband. She now has two sons and three grandchildren.

"My family is American. My home is here now," she said of her decision to become a U.S. citizen.

Her emotion was focused more on the people who became citizens alongside her, the fabric of America being woven in front of her eyes, "people who have gone through a lot to get here. I have had it easy."

One of those people was Mufolo Thomas, who in 1997 was urged to flee from his classroom in the Democratic Republic of Congo without even grabbing his schoolbooks as the civil war erupted. He was lucky. Some classmates went home and their parents were already gone.

His family left on foot.

"We walked and walked, days and days -- weeks, months, a year," he recalled. "I was terrified. Sometimes we had encounters with the soldiers, the rebels."

When he was 7 or 8 years old, they moved to a refugee camp in Zambia where he lived for nine years. After immigrating, they lived in Atlanta. He and his siblings had to get themselves ready for school because their parents worked through the night and weren't home in the morning.

He graduated from Lewiston High School in 2009, though he admits his imperfect English made it difficult.

Thomas said citizenship is like a bell ringing in his head, proclaiming freedom.

"I don't have to run from anybody else," he said. "It means so much to me. I wouldn't want to be a citizen of any other country."

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@mainetoday.com

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A new citizen holds a small American flag during a naturalization ceremony at Portland High School on Friday.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

  


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