September 23, 2012

Bill Nemitz: It takes a new American citizen to raise a village

(Continued from page 3)

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Maxwell Chikuta, originally from Congo, became a U.S. citizen Friday morning at a naturalization ceremony in South Portland.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Maxwell Chikuta, who volunteers as a member of the United Way speakers bureau, addresses a rally at the L.L. Bean Order Fulfillment Center in Freeport on Wednesday.

Gordon Chibroski

Nearby stood director Wood and other staffers from Portland Adult Education and Portland lawyers James and Margaret O'Keefe, who helped Maxwell -- at no charge -- navigate his way from political asylum all the way to citizenship.

"I'm personally just blown away at the content of his character," said James O'Keefe, founder of the Portland-based Immigration Law Group and a volunteer with the Immigration Legal Advocacy Project. "He's so smart and confident and just the kind of guy you want to help meet his full potential."

Shortly before 9 a.m., Maxwell rose from his seat with fellow immigrants from Bosnia, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Morocco, Poland, Cambodia, Germany, Somalia, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. As they took the oath of citizenship, sang the national anthem and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, Maxwell's near-perfect English rang out clearly amid the international chorus.

His story, he insists, is far from over. With his ever-ascending academic degrees, Maxwell's counting on a better-paying job to ease the financial strain that any American family of six faces these days.

"I am just above the poverty line, so I'm not yet comfortable," he confided, "But I am glad. I pay tax with pleasure. With pleasure."

This, after all, is his village now. A place where you lift up the individual for the common good. A place where help, once received, must always be passed on.

"This is not even a dream come true," said Maxwell Chikuta, our fellow American. "This is a wonder. This is a miracle."

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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