FALMOUTH — Miranda Qahalliu on Friday summed up her reason for moving from Bulgaria to the United States in a simple phrase.

“For a better life,” said the 29-year-old Lewiston woman, who owns a pizza shop in Auburn with her husband.

She gave an equally succinct explanation for wanting to get her American citizenship seven years later.

“To feel free,” she said.

Qahalliu was one of 37 people from 22 countries who put their right hands on their hearts and recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as American citizens Friday during a naturalization ceremony at Falmouth Elementary School.

Rene’ Nyanutse, a native of Togo and a French teacher at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, said Friday’s ceremony brought with it the “big responsibility” of being a good citizen.

“It’s a new start,” he said.

Also in the group were husband and wife Chandrakant and Daxa Patel, now Scarborough residents, who left India for the United States to be closer to relatives.

“My whole family is here,” said Chandrakant Patel, who hopes his new citizenship will provide him with more job opportunities.

There also was Uriel Gonzalez, who moved from Mexico to Texas as a toddler 20 years ago and works in the admissions office at Bates College, his alma mater.

“I can finally say I’m Mexican-American,” he said after the ceremony. He’s excited by the prospect of voting in the presidential election in November.

After taking an oath in unison, the new citizens were called up individually. Each one received a certificate and a miniature American flag.

Many beamed as they approached the podium, some gave the thumbs-up and others waved to the cheering crowd of family members, friends and fifth-graders from the school, who have been studying citizenship.

Getting the loudest applause was Paul Cooke, a native of England whose son Douglas is in the fifth-grade class in Falmouth. His wife, Lisa Cooke, originally from Australia, got her American citizenship two years ago, when their daughter Adelaide was in fifth grade.

“We’ve finally all got a nationality in common,” Paul Cooke said.

Along with their new citizenship, the group got advice from someone who has been an American for a little while longer.

The guest speaker, Antonio Rocha, a storyteller and mime who moved to Maine from Brazil, said his naturalization ceremony was held three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and he couldn’t have been prouder to become a United States citizen then.

“We are resilient and we can make things happen,” he said of what he learned about Americans after that day.

Rocha told the new citizens to expect to start feeling a sense of belonging. At the same time, he advised them not to forget the past.

“The greatest gift you can bring to the United States is who you are — your stories, your language, your food,” he said. “That’s what makes this country rich.”

 

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