2012-04-20 / Front Page

Newly minted New American citizens become official in South Portland

By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer


Irina Goltsova of Scarborough proudly poses for a photo after being naturalized in Friday’s ceremony at Southern Maine Community College. Fiftyfour new citizens took the Oath of Citizenship at last Friday’s ceremony and swore their allegiance to the United States. Students of Southern Maine Community College’s multicultural group, Color of Community, and their teacher, Rosemarie De Angelis, organized the entire event, which included singing from the SMCC choir and Pihcintu, a multicultural children’s chorus. (Kristy Wagner photo) Irina Goltsova of Scarborough proudly poses for a photo after being naturalized in Friday’s ceremony at Southern Maine Community College. Fiftyfour new citizens took the Oath of Citizenship at last Friday’s ceremony and swore their allegiance to the United States. Students of Southern Maine Community College’s multicultural group, Color of Community, and their teacher, Rosemarie De Angelis, organized the entire event, which included singing from the SMCC choir and Pihcintu, a multicultural children’s chorus. (Kristy Wagner photo) It was a multi-cultural celebration at Southern Maine Community College when 54 people underwent a very public naturalization ceremony in Hutchinson Union Building gymnasium.

Rosemarie De Angelis, city councilor and teacher of English as a second language at SMCC, organized last Friday morning’s ceremony with the help of her students in Color of Community.


Judge John Rich III, Rosemarie De Angelis and others shake hands and congratulate the new citizens after they took their naturalization oath. The naturalization ceremony that was held in the Hutchinson Union Building at Southern Maine Community College on April 13 is the last step in achieving United States Citizenship. ( 
Kristy Wagnerphoto) Judge John Rich III, Rosemarie De Angelis and others shake hands and congratulate the new citizens after they took their naturalization oath. The naturalization ceremony that was held in the Hutchinson Union Building at Southern Maine Community College on April 13 is the last step in achieving United States Citizenship. ( Kristy Wagnerphoto) Some Color of Community students wore outfits from their native country and De Angelis wore a traditional African outfit handmade for her by a woman in the Congolese Community of Maine, an organization dedicated to assisting Congolese immigrants and promoting their integration into Maine communities.

“I work with immigrant and refugees and it seemed like perfect partnership of bringing the ceremony to the college,” De Angelis said.

De Angelis has attended nine naturalization ceremonies and she said holding a ceremony at SMCC has been a dream she has had since she was mayor of South Portland last year.

“I see this college as such a big part of the community and I am so honored to be there for (her students) when they are naturalized,” De Angelis said.

Naturalization ceremonies that take place in a courtroom are called judicial ceremonies because a judge is present. Ceremonies that take place outside a courtroom are referred to as offsite and typically do not have judge present, but are facilitated by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Friday’s ceremony at SMCC was special because it was an offsite ceremony where Judge John Rich III was present. Rich is a federal magistrate judge with the United States District Court who serves in the District of Maine.

“It’s what I refer to as a hybrid,” De Angelis said. “The judge has agreed to come off the bench and come in his robes to do a judicial ceremony offsite.”

“What we’re trying to do now is raise visibility of our immigrant community and the role that our agency plays in these ceremonies,” said Sally Blauvelt, field office director for immigration services in Maine. “We like to get out and have ceremonies hosted in communities so people get the opportunity to see who their new residents are and see how grateful they actually are to (become U.S. citizens).”

Blauvelt said naturalization ceremonies are the culmination of the work that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services does.

“It’s our agency that provides education materials for these folks to learn English and learn about our history and government,” she said. “When they file their naturalization applications our officers are the ones that will do the interview process to determine whether they are eligible for citizenship.”

Blauvelt and two of her field officers were present before the ceremony to register candidates as they arrived. She said candidates were tested on their knowledge of civics, history and knowledge of English language. The question and answer interview can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour, she said.

“The date they become a permanent resident they have to wait five years until they are eligible for citizenship, three if they marry an American citizen,” Blauvelt said. “The reason for that period of time is to give them an opportunity to (assimilate) into our culture and learn about us.”

Blauvelt said people new to the United States don’t have to apply for citizenship the moment they become permanent residents, but many do.

“If you’re a U.S. citizen you get the right to vote, serve on a jury and do the things that citizens of this country get to do—most of the things we take for granted they’re happy to do,” she said.

Color of the Community co-facilitated the naturalization ceremony with De Angelis. They are a group of immigrant and refugee students at SMCC who came together in 2009 to share their individual stories and experiences of coming to the United States.

“Our mission is to teach people about how difficult it is to come to America,” said Truc Nguyen, a Color of Community student from Vietnam.

De Angelis said the group holds what they call Sacred Stories at schools throughout southern Maine where Color of Community students each share their individual experience of immigrating to the United States.

“The group came out of my work with these students. They are all former students of mine and in our work together, we started talking about their experiences coming to this country and issues around bias, prejudice and stereotypes,” De Angelis said.

Chansatha Meas, a Color of Community student from Cambodia, said a lot of citizens do not realize what people from other countries endure before they come to the United States.

“We went through a lot of war and genocide and things like that; people don’t really know,” she said. “We usually go to high schools and middle schools to talk about prejudice, forgiveness, love, kindness – all kinds of stuff.”

Both Meas and Nguyen said Color of Community has grown together as a family.

“I came here alone with no family so they are really my family, my brothers and sisters,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said Color of Community has grown larger with every semester.

“We have more than 20 (people) now and we started with nine,” he said. “We speak more than 22 different languages.”

The group performed the invocation of the new citizens at Friday’s ceremony in each of their respective languages. They also read the names of the new citizens as the awarded each a certificate of citizenship.

After the ceremony the SMCC choir sang “America the Beautiful” and “Yonder Come Day.” Pihcintu, Maine’s multicultural children’s chorus directed by Con Fullam, closed the event with a few uplifting numbers. As the group of girls of varying ethnicities sang, Color of Community students and De Angelis clapped and sang along on stage while the 54 new U.S. citizens did the same from their seats on the main floor.

South Portland Mayor Patricia Smith attended the naturalization ceremony, which she said was the first one she had ever witnessed.

“It’s such a moving experience to see all these new bright faces as they complete this process,” Smith said. “It’s such an emotional time because we take so much for granted as citizens too often, you see many people come before you today with a lot of excitement to be here.”

Smith added she was happy De Angelis invited her to the event and that she enjoyed the integration of Color of Community in the ceremony.

“I have been to their Sacred Stories before and it’s a great example of how wonderful they are,” she said.

Irina Georgi Goltsova, of Scarborough, posed proudly with her certificate of citizenship and a small American flag as her daughter took a photo. Goltsova said she has been in the United States for five and a half years, emigrating from Moscow to study nursing. Goltsova is also a former SMCC student of De Angelis.

“I loved every moment (of the ceremony),” Goltsova said. “I was working toward my nursing degree and managed to learn English and accomplish my bachelor’s in nursing, get married and now this is the final step.”

Goltsova said after she passed her exam to be granted citizenship, a man at the hospital where she volunteers told her she was an American. Goltsova said she thanked the man, but told him she was not yet a full citizen.

The man said she had misheard him.

“He said, ‘No, you are a miracle,’” Goltsova

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