Twenty-five people from 18 countries were sworn in as United States citizens during a naturalization ceremony in Bangor on Friday. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN

BANGOR, Maine — Ana Quaker traveled three hours from the York County town of Berwick to earn her U.S. citizenship Friday.

The 41-year old, who is originally from Romania, moved to Maine in 2015. She went to Bangor with six family members, including her husband Mark, and she will celebrate with a barbeque this weekend. Quaker, 41, went through the K-1 visa process, which is when a U.S. citizen must apply to bring their fiancee here from another country. “More than anything, I’m relieved,” she said after the ceremony where she raised her right hand and took the Oath of Allegiance. “It was a long process and a lot of paperwork.”

Ana Quaker, second from the left, along with 24 others earned her U.S. citizenship Friday. She traveled three hours from Berwick to Bangor for the naturalization ceremony. Six family members came to support her, and they will celebrate with a barbeque this weekend. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN

For Quaker and 24 others who came from 18 countries, it was a day they will always remember. The last naturalization ceremony at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building and Courthouse took place in March. That was the first one in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After meeting the country’s requirements and passing an interview and exam, the group finally became U.S. citizens. The ceremony is a culminating moment in the lives of many participants, some of whom have experienced difficult journeys to America.

“Before you leave today, take a moment and look at each other,” U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker told the crowd before they took the oath. “You, individually and as a group, are now America.”

Three of 25 new citizens raise their right hands and recite the Oath of Allegiance during Friday’s naturalization ceremony in Bangor. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN

There was no question about how Fidele Rutonesha, 30, was feeling after the ceremony — “happy, of course,” he said while snapping photographs with loved ones.

He and his 22-year-old cousin, Christian Sebatware Byishimo, are from the Democratic Republic of Congo and now live in the Androscoggin County town of Poland. Byishimo arrived in Michigan in 2016 and Rutonesha in Texas a year later before relocating to Maine.

“We came here for peace and freedom,” Byishimo said, pointing to ongoing conflict and displacement in their home country. “We love the United States.”

Some new citizens, like Sylvie Isimbi of Portland, filled out voter registration cards through the Maine League of Women Voters.

Isimbi, 35, from Rwanda, joined her family members in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2015. She now lives with her husband in Portland and works as a caregiver, which she enjoys and doesn’t see changing with her new status.

Sylvie Isimbi, who is from Rwanda and became a U.S. citizen Friday, shakes hands with U.S. District Judge Lance Walker following a naturalization ceremony in Bangor. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN

“Today feels like my dream came true,” she said. “Really, it was my dream.”

Walker encouraged participants to share their art, music, language and recipes. He also reminded them to engage their neighbors with humility during divisive times. As new citizens, they should be well informed, start a business, continue their education, practice their religion and love their neighbors, he said.

“Cherish this moment, savor this moment, and perhaps most importantly, go home and record this moment so that future generations can learn the story of their American citizenship,” he said.