AUGUSTA — Asad Rahimi came to the United States from Afghanistan about seven months ago, and he said his experience so far has exceeded his expectations.

“When I came here and started a new life, I see every person is a good person, so I’m very happy.” Rahimi said. “I fit in very good here.”

Rahimi was one of several Afghan and Iranians who celebrated the Persian New Year on Tuesday evening at an event hosted by the Capital Area New Mainers Project at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church.

The secular holiday of Nowruz has been celebrated for thousands of years and recognizes the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring. It’s a holiday meant to honor rebirth, rejuvenation and hope.

“We want to send a message of hope and welcome, and we want to welcome new people into our community and celebrate the diversity of cultures that we have,” said Chris Myers Asch, one of the leaders of the New Mainers group. “Augusta is becoming more diverse, which is a good thing for Augusta and a good thing for Maine.

“It’s nice to come together as a community to celebrate the hope we have for a better future.”

The celebration began with Sarah Nichols, a New Mainers volunteer, explaining the traditional table setting of Nowruz in Iran. The Haft Seen includes seven items beginning with the letter “s,” or “seen” in the Perso-Arabic alphabet. The items each represent a different part of life, including garlic, which symbolizes health and medicine; sumac, a new day; apples, beauty; coins, wealth; and sprouts, which symbolize rebirth.

Nichols said such events help show the community that people from other places are just like the rest of us.

“We probably have a bad rap right now on the international stage, but we want to show people that they are more than welcome in this area,” Nichols said. “We are open to learning about new cultures and celebrations, and we were very excited to celebrate Nowruz with people of many different religions and backgrounds.”

Myers Asch said there are misconceptions about people from the Middle East, but he said he hopes events like this one help teach the community that these immigrants and refugees want a better life for themselves, which is no different from what anyone else wants.

“They have the same hopes and dreams that we have in America,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see their kids play with my kids, having a great time sledding and building Legos and drinking cocoa just like any Maine kid would.

“We are all human and part of the human family ,and we’re all together, and we want to welcome them here and help them thrive.”

Rahimi, 27, lives in Augusta with his sisters and some nieces and nephews. He still has family back in Afghanistan, including his parents, but he’s happy to be out of his native country.

“When I was in Afghanistan, I wasn’t happy because of the fighting and bomb blasts and every bad scene,” he said. “(Living) here makes me very happy because of all the people who give me respect, which didn’t happen in my country.”

The new Mainers organization has helped many families who recently arrived in Maine by providing transportation to job interviews, school, the grocery store and medical appointments. Myers Asch said people need to do as much as they can to support these new Mainers, because they came to this country to make a difference.

“They have been through unimaginable trauma to get here and they want be in this country and make this country better,” he said. “They would make the best employees.”

Throughout the evening, guests ate traditional Middle Eastern food such as noodle kugel, lentil curry and kafka, and everyone was asked to sit with someone he or she didn’t already know. Many of the immigrant families were taking pictures and videos on their cellphones of their children enjoying their dinner and the company of their new American friends.

Sameer Aryaie, 19, came to Augusta from Afghanistan after spending several years in Pakistan. She is a junior at Cony High School and said she loves mathematics, World Wrestling Entertainment and all her teachers and friends. She started learning English in Pakistan and hopes to be a heart surgeon.

“I really want to serve people and help people,” Aryaie said. “The people here are really kind and really nice.”

Susan Parks, one of New Mainers’ leaders, said she wasn’t familiar with the holiday until she was told about it around a month ago. She said she learned how important the holiday was because of how dressed up the women were at the event.

“It’s just so delightful seeing them so happy and enjoying everything,” Parks said. “I knew this was special when I mentioned this to the Afghan families and their eyes lit up.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ