READFIELD — Phuong Luong eagerly answered interview questions Friday from Maranacook Community Middle School students. 

The questions to the candidate for U.S. citizenship started out easy — “What is your favorite Maine season?” “Fall.” 

“Where in America do you most hope to visit?” “Hawaii.” 

“What is your favorite American food?” “Popeye chicken,” said Luong. “In Vietnam, American food is a luxury.”

“What is your favorite Vietnamese food?” Luong loves, and misses, a spicy noodle soup with beef. 

As the group became comfortable, the questions became more serious. 

Sixth-graders Abigail Easterby and Jeffrey Lemieux, and seventh-graders Jonathan Bell and Gabby Galbreath gently and curiously asked, and Luong’s responses were thoughtful and carefully composed. 

“Why do you want to become a U.S. citizen?” “Education,” said Luong. 

New citizen Phuong Luong, gets her certificate of naturalization Friday at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The 19-year-old came to the U.S. five years ago from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, staying with family members, who were citizens, in Houston, Texas. After traveling to Boston with her school district, she saw herself staying in America. 

“I never thought I could be there physically,” Luong said. “Seeing (the colleges) in person made it seem easier to attain. It changed my mindset.”

Now she is a student at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, studying chemistry and computer science. This summer, she worked for a laboratory studying breast cancer. 

In Vietnam, she explained, young people studied abroad to access better education, if they did not emigrate. 

“School is important,” said Easterby, who lives in Readfield. “I agree with Phuong.”

“Why America instead of other countries?” “I can vote,” Luong answered. 

And then, as the middle-schoolers finished their questions, and the conversation became amicable and casual, Luong gave the students advice.

“When you find out what you love doing,” she said, “put all of your heart into it.” 

Luong was one of 31 citizen candidates from 25 countries who became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Friday at Maranacook Middle School. Other countries represented included Somalia, Jamaica, Afghanistan, Iraq, Poland and Russia. 

Acadia Team students sing “This Land Is Your Land” during a naturalization ceremony Friday at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The middle-schoolers were part of the Naturalization Integrated Class, studying immigration with Dan Holman, Jean Roesner and Kelly Corrigan. Along with social studies, their mathematical studies looked at the statistics, while language arts developed their speaking and listening skills, which they practiced in interviews before the ceremony.

“We worked with kids on being aware of (the) hard paths the citizen candidates took to get here,” said Holman. “We encouraged the kids to really be sensitive.”

He said artwork and chorus, along with gifts presented to the citizen candidates, focused on the theme “This Land Is Your Land,” which the students performed during the ceremony.

Part of the students’ studies on immigration was to learn what citizen candidates do in order to become citizens, including taking the citizens’ test.

A naturalization ceremony previously took place at the middle school in 2015. Holman thought taking students to a naturalization ceremony would expand on what they have been learning. Upon inquiring about the possibility, however, he found that the venue could not accommodate the number of students and staff, so he invited the ceremony to the central Maine school instead.

“That day was my best day teaching,” said Holman. 

Analyn Leblanc, left, standing by her 8-year-old daughter Yhancee Leblanc, Hector Pietra Santa Villalobos, and Abya Narangi, holding her granddaughter, take the oath of allegiance Friday at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Analyn LeBlanc went across the stage after taking her Oath of Allegiance, shaking the hands first of immigration officers and Maranacook teachers and administrators, and then the hands of state Rep. Shenna Bellows and Gov. Janet Mills.

But it was when she took hold of her certificate of naturalization that she could not contain her joy. 

LeBlanc, of Salem, had immigrated from the Philippines. With her citizenship, her 8-year-old daughter, Yhancee, also became a U.S. citizen. 

LeBlanc met her husband, Brian, a merchant marine, in Korea. The couple also have two younger children who are already citizens, Brendyn, who is 5, and Rylan, 13 months. 

Having the whole family be citizens was “amazing,” they said.


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