Washington, D.C., was where Tabin Tangila mesu Kamba first landed after fleeing his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a controversial election had led to chaos and violence.

When he arrived in the nation’s capital in 2012, he was told by someone at a nearby church that he could find the help he needed in Maine. Tangila mesu Kamba, 36, has since been granted asylum and joined by his wife and four children in Yarmouth.

He will return to Washington for the first time Tuesday to attend President Obama’s final State of the Union address as the guest of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

“I’m so glad to be there and see how democracy works in this country,” he said.

Each member of Congress gets two tickets to the annual speech and they commonly take constituents or staff or family members. Last year, Pingree invited celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, with whom she’s worked on food policy issues, said Willy Ritch, spokesman for Pingree.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, is bringing Norman Rossignol, a decorated Army veteran from Bangor. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King is bringing retired Maj. Gen. Earl Adams, who served in King’s gubernatorial administration as the adjutant general and commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, will be joined by Betsey McCandless, a Portland lawyer who serves as a trustee of the Diocesan Funds for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine and on the board of directors for Hospice of Southern Maine.

Members of Congress often announce who their guests are, and the invitations can also be used to make a political statement.

Ritch said Pingree wanted to bring a Maine immigrant or refugee to show her support for that community at a time when the national dialogue surrounding those groups has been particularly sharp.

“Tabin is a great example of the immigrants who come to this country and come to Maine to escape persecution and to make a life for themselves and their families,” Pingree said in a written statement.

Tangila mesu Kamba, who was a political activist and advocate for health care in his home country, now works at the Frannie Peabody Center in Portland as a minority outreach specialist for people with HIV.

“In the Congo, Tabin had the courage to stand up for human rights. It was a brave and dangerous thing to do for him, and I’m proud that he and his family are now Mainers and I’m proud to take him to see the president speak tomorrow night,” Pingree said Monday.

Tangila mesu Kamba admitted Monday that he wasn’t exactly sure what he was being invited to at first. But after speaking with Ritch and some work colleagues, he was shocked to learn what was happening.

“I found out that was a big and huge thing in my life,” he said.

He hopes to hear the president speak about immigration and what the country can do to help people who are waiting to become legal citizens.

Rossignol, Poliquin’s guest, said Monday that he is most interested in hearing Obama talk about gun control.

“He’s too lenient,” Rossignol said of the president. The veteran said he wants Obama to be more aggressive about getting assault rifles out of the hands of the public.

Rossignol, 90, served in the Army for 21 years, as an infantryman in World War II and the Korean War, and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

A native of Milford and a graduate of Old Town High School, he also worked for 25 years as an electrician at the University of Maine. Now he greets members of the armed services at the airport as they arrive back in the United States and participates in a program at a local museum in which students can interview veterans.

“The best way to honor the selfless service of our brave veterans like Norman is to make sure we do everything to protect the freedoms and liberties they fought so hard to defend, and that we keep our nation’s promise to take care of our veterans,” Poliquin said in a news release. “On Tuesday night, I hope to hear this president finally stand up to those who wish to do this great country and its allies harm, just as Norman did more than 70 years ago.”

Rossignol and Poliquin met while marching in the Memorial Day parade in Bangor last year. They walked beside each other again at the Veterans Day parade, Rossignol said.

A couple of weeks ago, he got a call from the congressman asking about his plans for this week. He checked his calendar and was free, he told Poliquin, who then invited him to watch the address from the gallery in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I’ve been on cloud nine since then,” Rossignol said.

 


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