READFIELD — Teacher Dan Holman spoke to the 41 smiling faces in front of them, some holding an American flag in one hand, and their naturalization papers in the other.

They had become the newest citizens of Maine.

“The apple has a place in Maine history,” Holman said. “We know the apple pie, which has a place in American history, but the apple came from overseas. It was loved and roots were put down and grown — there is nothing more American than an apple tree, or all of you, who put roots down and will thrive on this land.”

The new citizens represented 20 different countries — Canada, Congo, Turkey, Thailand, Syria and France, to name a few — and some came seeking asylum, to be with family who ventured to America before them, and others, because they married an American spouse.

Regardless of their reason, most called it “the best day of their life.”

“It’s the right thing to do. I thought about it every day and I prayed, and I hoped and I dreamed,” said Omar Simpson.


Simpson came from Jamaica in 2010 and at the time, never heard of Maine. He came to Boothbay and later met his wife and had a daughter, now 6. He said he became a citizen for them. Simpson said he traveled to Jamaica with his family and was separated because of their different passports.

“I thought, this is time,” he said, after living for nearly 13 years in the country.

Rosemarie Atienza had a similar story, as she came from the Philippines to be with her family who came to America 20 years ago. She arrived in Maine five years ago and said she is “so happy to be with family.” Atienza said she studied hard for the naturalization exam.

Candidates for naturalization recite the Oath of Allegiance on Friday during a ceremony in the Mr. Burbank Memorial Gym at Maranacook Community School in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The ceremony was held by teachers and students in the “Acadia Team” at the Mr. Burbank Memorial Gym at Maranacook Community School. Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, both spoke virtually, while Hector Pieta-Santa, who was naturalized in 2019, and state Rep. Mana Abdi spoke in person.

“We know this country is far from perfect,” Mills told the new citizens, “but today, where it’s easy to feel fractured and divided … the story of America has always been about progress, freedom, justice and equality.”

Holman previously took students to the naturalization ceremonies in Augusta, but the venue could not hold all of the students and teachers in addition to those participating in the ceremony. So, he proposed the event be held at the middle school and since 2019, Maranacook Community Middle School has hosted the ceremony.


To prepare for the event, students selected a country to study as part of their integrated “Paths to America” curriculum and created a list of interview questions to ask the new citizens. Their questions ranged from what it was like to live in the countries they came from and whether they felt welcomed when they arrived in Maine. At the beginning of this week, Sen. King taught a lesson on citizenship to the students and told them about his job as a lawmaker.

Hector Pieta-Santa addresses the crowd Friday during a naturalization ceremony at Maranacook Community School in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Emmanuel and Ornella, a married couple that left Burundi to seek asylum, said that even though they had a college education when they left their country, in America they had to start over and do whatever jobs they could find to support their four children. They did not want to use their last names in order to keep their identities safe. Emmanuel, who fled for political reasons, became a U.S. citizen Friday.

“This is the moment we were waiting for for 10 years,” Emmanuel said. “…We have no family here. We had to figure out everything. We had to figure out jobs because over there, we are educated, and here, we have to find a job to pay the bills and try to figure out how to get our degree for the jobs we had.”

Student Stella Stewart, an eighth grader, got the chance to ask Emmanuel and Ornella about their experience fleeing Burundi. She said as a middle-schooler, she didn’t think she’d “have the chance to learn about something like this.”

“This is something my parents never learned, but this is something we should all learn. There was a girl from Lewiston (we talked with) who said she was bullied,” Stewart continued, “but I don’t think she would have been if people knew her story and it would really help.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story