Friday, June 2, 2017

Becoming United States citizens - with help from the American Legion Auxiliary by Michelle Libby

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;”

Twenty-eight people gave the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America on Friday morning at the Windham Veterans Center. The ceremony hosted by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 148 (ALA) was the second the unit had planned. 

“It’s an awesome, life changing event for these people and I’m happy to witness it,” said ALA member Pat Learned. 

From over 20 countries like Cambodia, Canada, Columbia, Ghana, Guatemala, Italy, Russia, Malta and the People’s Republic of China, the new citizens personally demonstrated, under oath, their desires to become citizens.“It’s about time. I’ve been here for 20 plus years,” said Sarom Grover, 37, originally from Cambodia and a Windham resident. “I always put it off. My priorities were going to school and starting a family.” Now she sees the differences in the country since the 1980s and she wants to be more involved in the changes. “I feel so loved. I seriously didn’t picture this being so big and important to others as it is to me,” she said. 

The children in attendance and the families of the honored were able to see how the military and citizenship are intertwined. “Our purpose is to promote patriotism and Americanism,” said ALA president Pam Whynot. “Freedom is not free. The military works hard for our citizens, for all of us.”
The master of ceremony was Kim Colson-Hoffman, Immigration Services Officer. She welcomed everyone and introduced the third grade chorus from Windham Primary School who sang the National Anthem and other patriotic selections. Being Memorial Day weekend, the event was even more poignant for the attendees. 

“Bringing in the local people from the area make this more special. The keynote speaker is a Windham resident and the Legion Auxiliary brings pride to the community,” said Immigration Services Officer Kurt Pelletier, who lives in Raymond. “With it being Memorial Day weekend, what could be more American than that?”

Nkrumah Kingsley is an Army National Guard member from Westbrook who became a citizen on Friday. “I look at America setting other countries free. I want to be part of the US citizens helping people in bondage, sacrificing my life for people,” he said. 

Twenty year Army veteran Sgt. First Class Keri Karsten gave welcoming remarks. “I learned and loved to selflessly serve,” she told the audience. She described traveling to other countries and learning about the customs, languages and food, and how that changed her. 

For Windham resident Cindy O’Brien, it was time to become a citizen. “My alien card was getting tattered and I started getting detained. I decided to take the plunge,” she said. O’Brien moved from Canada to the United States when she was 4 years old.  

At this ceremony, four of the new citizens were from Windham: Grover, O’Brien, Michael Popov and Viktor Yurkevich. Two of the new citizens had military ties: Kingsley the National Guard member, and Selina Ripley, who is the spouse of a retired Air Force member. 

Maine Senator Bill Diamond was the keynote speaker. He has a long history of service to the community and state, Pelletier said. 

“It is very, very special. In all of Windham, we are very proud to have your ceremony here,” Diamond said. “You can tell a lot about a country by the numbers of people who want to get in.” He spoke about his son-in-law, who will become an American citizen in June. “That makes my family even more connected to you. We were here on day number one of your citizenship.”

Luis Juarez said that becoming a citizen means “everything” to him. “It changed my life being here. I grow my kids here, safe. There are lots of opportunities here. Everything is changing. I’ve got to do it right now,” he said. Juarez and his 16-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter are from Portland. His daughter just graduated from Smith College with plans to become a doctor. schooler Alexander Momot from Windham read an essay he wrote. “Veterans are true heroes and will always be in my heart. Their patriotism shows us that this country is worth fighting for,” he read.

At the end of the ceremony, the new citizens were given the opportunity to register to vote by the League of Women Voters. 

“There’s so much here. It’s so rich,” said Representative Mark Bryant. “It’s a civic blessing all by itself. It takes a village and we have a good village.”  

“These guys have worked so hard to be citizens. We are so blessed to be natural born citizens,” said ALA member Nancylou Stiles.

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