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Twenty-four new American citizens attend a naturalization ceremony at Sweeney Post in Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Ceremony welcomes 24 new U.S. citizens

MANCHESTER — Eleven years ago, Omujwok Dak arrived in the city as a refugee from his native South Sudan, fleeing a “nasty war, one of the worst civil wars that took place in Africa,” he recalled Thursday.

He was penniless and alone and didn’t know a word of English. On Thursday, the now-married father of two and Manchester homeowner was decked out in a suit and American flag-patterned bow tie — with matching flag socks — and proudly became an American citizen.

“I can’t express my feelings right now,” said Dak, 33, after receiving his citizenship certificate. “It’s very emotional. I’m tearing up right now.”

He and his wife, Sarah Dak, who also fled South Sudan, were among the 24 New Hampshire residents who pledged their allegiance to the United States of America, becoming citizens in a special naturalization ceremony at the Henry J. Sweeney Post 2, American Legion.

“I came as a refugee and now I am an American citizen. I can vote,” Dak said, choking up.

He took English classes and learned how to use a computer at the Manchester Community Resource Center. That enabled him to get a job at the Merrimack Station in Bow for PSNH, where he’s been employed for the past 11 years.

His sons Joseph, 2, and Wiji, 5, were among the more than 100 flag-waving family, friends, American Legion members and ordinary citizens on hand for the special occasion.

The newest Americans originated from 17 countries including Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Germany, Hungary, India, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Russia, South Sudan and the United Kingdom. They make their homes in 15 different communities across Southern New Hampshire.

Evandro Lopes, 31, of Merrimack, who came to the United States in 2010 from his native Cape Verde, became a citizen while in his camouflage uniform of the New Hampshire National Guard.

Lopes, who led the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance, was a police officer for five years in his homeland before he arrived at the age of 27 in Boston in pursuit of a better life and the woman he would ultimately marry in 2011, Maria Gomes. She became a U.S. citizen years ago after arriving in Boston as a child, also from Cape Verde. Gomes and Lopes met in their native country, where Gomes annually vacationed.

She grew up in Boston and went on to graduate from college and become an engineer employed by BAE.

Lopes said he joined the National Guard last year because it was “my dream as a child” to be a solider. Today, he works in security in civilian life and is a petroleum specialist for the Guard in Concord.

The ceremony featured patriotic songs performed by the Forever Young Chorus from the William B. Cashin Senior Center, a video recording of President Barack Obama offering his congratulations and the playing of Lee Greenwood’s rousing “Proud To Be an American.”

“There’s freedom here and opportunity and there’s a feeling that you belong and are not just a resident,” Gomes said.

Speakers included post Cmdr. William Whitmore; Anthony Violanti, Manchester field office director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who administered the oath of allegiance, and Alan Heidenreich, Korean War veteran and director of the Forever Young Chorus.

pgrossmith@unionleader.com



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