BANGOR, Maine — Twenty-five natives of 17 different nations walked into U.S. District Court on Friday morning, emerging a little more than an hour later as new American citizens. They came from Venezuela and Vietnam, Sweden and Sri Lanka, Colombia, Canada, Haiti, the Philippines and nine other countries.
For George and Regine Lamarre of Haiti, the naturalization ceremony made their commitment to the United States official. The married couple has been living in Madawaska for the past four years, after a year spent in New York City.
“We came here to help in a Christian ministry,” 58-year-old George Lamarre said. “There are too many political and social troubles in Haiti.”
They plan to return to New York before winter.
“It is beautiful in Madawaska. The people are very friendly and the mountains remind me of home,” said Regine Lamarre, 52. “But it is too cold, and the winter is too long.”
Jobs for both of them will be easier to find in New York, they said.
Liping Zheng of Fujian Province in the People’s Republic of China said the formal ceremony made her feel “excited and nervous.” The shy 18-year-old senior at Georges Valley High School in Thomaston still struggles with her English after living four years in Thomaston and two years in Massachusetts, but she is making headway with the help of the school’s English as a Second Language program and the support of a personal tutor. He mother still lives in China; her father owns the China Coast restaurant in Rockland. Liping plans to study science in college, she said.
Liping’s 17-year-old brother, Hang Zheng, accompanied her to the ceremony and said he, too, will apply for U.S. citizenship as soon as he turns 18.
Also in the Bangor courtroom from the midcoast area on Friday were Pat and Don Renn of South Thomaston. They had come to see their 30-year-old friend George Haddad of Lebanon become a U.S. citizen. Although Haddad now lives in Florida, he and Don Renn met and became friends when Haddad, who has a background in electronics, worked at Radio Shack in Rockland. Haddad’s parents, who live in Springfield, were in the audience as well. Their two daughters recently became U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony in Boston.
“It’s been an exciting year for this family,” Pat Renn observed.
George Haddad’s mother, Fattat Haddad, attended high school in the U.S. in 1959.
“I kept my green card for 40 years,” she said on Friday. “I went back to Lebanon, I got married and had four kids.” When she decided to return to the U.S., she said, it took her only about two years to gain her citizenship. Fattat Haddad has one more grown daughter still living in Lebanon who recently applied for U.S. citizenship.
“It will take her about 11 years,” she said.
After administering the oath of citizenship, presiding U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, with Federal Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk beside him at the bench, congratulated the new Americans.
“It is part of the particular genius of the United States that it was not founded upon a racial, ethnic or religious identity,” he said. “By taking the oath of citizenship, you have by that act alone become as much an American as any other citizen in this country.”
“We are all enriched when we learn from each other,” Woodcock went on. Eliciting laughter in the crowded courtroom, he urged the new citizens to “share your values, your language, your art and your recipes — especially your recipes — with the rest of us.”
Each new American received a certificate of citizenship, a red carnation and a small American flag, along with instructions for registering to vote. Standing, everyone in the courtroom recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “God Bless America” and the national anthem. Bangor lawyer Thad Zmistowski led the singing.
For 29-year-old Mary Cigliola of Boothbay, Friday’s naturalization ceremony marked the end of a five-year journey to secure U.S. citizenship for her husband, 30-year-old Andrea Cigliola of Rome, Italy.
“This is the end of a very, very long road,” she said. “It’s a huge relief.” Mary Cigliola said the couple has filed many forms, paid hundreds of dollars in fees, and kept track of residency requirements for the better part of their five-year marriage.
“Now we have the freedom to come and go as we please,” she said.
Naturalization ceremonies, which are open to the public, are conducted twice each year in Bangor. The next event will take place in late October.
On the Web: www.uscis.gov