Martin Turnidge has been a U.S. resident for 12 years, but Independence Day was the one holiday he and his family didn’t feel completely comfortable celebrating.

“It’s a feeling of, ‘Should I be celebrating this?’ ” he said. “It will be different this year to feel like it’s our holiday and not just other people’s holiday.”

One month after becoming a naturalized citizen during a ceremony in Portland, Turnidge, 48, is excited to fully participate in his Fourth of July as an American citizen by grilling hot dogs and watching fireworks.

He and his family are four of about 1,000 people in Maine who are celebrating their first Independence Day in the United States.

In the past year, 400 people residing in Maine have applied for citizenship and will be part of a 20-month waiting list. Applicants must undergo hours of studying U.S. history, pass a test, take an Oath of Allegiance and pay a $725 application fee. About 1,000 people take the oath of citizenship in Maine each year.

As of July 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported 78,000 pending requests for citizenship nationwide.

In 2007, Turnidge left the United Kingdom for Albany, New York, with his two young children and his wife to pursue his career in software engineering. The family now lives in Saco.

The couple have a third child, a son, who was born in the U.S. and, for a time, was the only citizen in the family. This year, all five family members will celebrating July Fourth as citizens.

“It changes a lot, now that we’re all citizens,” he said. “I think that definitely changes the family dynamic especially around these kinds of holidays.”

Turnidge said he is still discovering the changes that accompany citizenship. One difference, he said, is that now feels more free to discuss certain topics, such as politics.

Another recently naturalized citizen, Luis Sanchez, 27, of Saco, will be celebrating his first Fourth of July in the Dominican Republic – his birth country – to visit family. Although he will not be in the United States for Independence Day, he said he is still reflecting on the meaning of the holiday.

“It’s a special day to celebrate your independence and those who have fallen for the country and for your freedom,” Sanchez said.

In 2012, Sanchez arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic on a cultural exchange visa that allowed him to work at Funtown Splashtown USA. He met his future wife, Raimy Sanchez Constantine, and the couple married a year later.

Sanchez’s wife became a citizen in 2009 and he became a citizen in November 2018. Four days later, he exercised his new right to vote.

Sanchez believes the Fourth is a special day to celebrate independence, and he also hopes to impart lessons of freedom and sacrifice on his daughters Sophia and Julia. Specifically, Sanchez wants them to remember the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom.

“We taught her about Fourth of July and veterans and people that sacrificed themselves for independence,” Sanchez said.

For Adel Al Rashid, a new citizen who lives in Augusta,  July Fourth is a time of freedom for him and his family of five.

In October of 2013, Al Rashid fled Iraq with wife and two sons. In Iraq, Al Rashid worked with the U.S. Army to rebuild structures that were damaged during the war in Iraq. He decided to come to the United States after his job compromised his safety.

“I got threatened by terrorist groups, it was so dangerous,” Al Rashid said in an email to the Press Herald. “It was a good opportunity for me to run away from the dangers, and save my life and my family’s life.”

Due to the circumstances, Al Rashid’s application for special immigration visa got approved. Al Rashid took the oath of citizenship last January.

Since arriving in the United States, Al Rashid has welcomed a daughter.

The family has shown its patriotism by hanging an American flag at their home. Today, he plans on barbecuing and watching fireworks with his family.

Christian Bukele, 42, of Portland became a U.S. citizen in June, after moving to Maine’s largest city five years ago. Bukele is from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. He met his wife, Ghizlane Mejjani, when he was studying computer science in Morocco. They both manufacture windows at Paradigm

The couple plan to spend their July Fourth holiday by visiting Sebago Lake State Park with their 2-year-old twin sons, Larbi and Ali. They’ll cap the day off by watching the fireworks from Portland’s Eastern Promenade.

“I feel like a newborn child,” Bukele said of attaining citizenship. “I’ve become a free person. I wasn’t free before.”

When he lived in the Congo, he had to be careful about what he said or expressed for fear he might be persecuted.

“Now I can vote and my voice can be heard,” he said.

Bukele said July Fourth  holds a special meaning for him.

“It means independence for the United States and for me too. I’m a free person,” he said.

Staff Writers Emily Duggan, Kristen Waite and Dennis Hoey contributed to this story.

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