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60 Celebrate Independence Day as New American Citizens

"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all me are created equal," wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

It can be easy to get swept away by the parades, picnics and fireworks and forget about the words at the heart of America's annual birthday celebration.

But 60 people from around the world who gathered today in Bangor will likely remember Jefferson's message, which they heard for the first time as U.S. citizens.  

They sit in the auditorium in rows marked "Reserved." A mother from Honduras. A father from Somalia. Sixty people. Thirty countries. All here now, inside the Gracie Theater at Husson University in Bangor, one day before Independence Day, one hour from officially joining that imperfect experiment called America.

"Any questions? Everybody's nodding. Let's get this thing over with, let's get moving!" says U.S. Immigration Services Officer Kurt Pelletier. Pellitier jokes that he might keep grilling them with more questions. But the tests have actually all been passed. And it's time to make it official.

"My name is John Woodcock and I am the chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Maine. Now for what so many of you have been waiting for, Madame Clerk, please proceed with the naturalization ceremony."

The applicants rise from their seats and face the stage. Julie Wallentine, the U.S. District Court's deputy in charge, leads the oath.

Cameras flash as loved ones snap photos. Row by row, the newly-minted U.S. citizens ascend some stairs and walk across the stage, as their names are read.

They shake Judge Woodcock's hand and head back to their seats. Then, clutching their new citizenship certificates, they stand again. (Reciting Pledge of Allegiance followed by "God Bless America.")

"I'm from Honduras," says one woman. "What brought you to America?" I ask. "Opportunity," she says. Merta Esmeralda Perkoski, who lives in Parsonsfield, has been in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.

"It feels great. Great. The best day actually," Perkoski says.

Tomorrow, Perkoski has to go to work. When she gets off, she say she looks forward to celebrating her first Fourth of July as a U.S. citizen.