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November 03. 2012 11:39PM

New citizens eager to vote


First-time voter Mohamed Mohamed poses in front of City Hall in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
Before heading to work in Manchester on Tuesday, Mohamed Mohamed will stop at the West Congregational Church in Concord to vote for the first time in his life.

The 28-year-old interpreter fled Somalia during a civil war around age 8 and lived 12 years in a refugee camp in Kenya.

"When you're in a refugee camp, you can't vote for President; you can't vote for mayor," said the father of four, including an infant.

He arrived in New Hampshire in 2004 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010.

"It's one of the duties a citizen should do," he said. "It's our responsibility to vote."

On Tuesday, Mamawah Massaquoi will vote in a different Concord polling place, St. Peter's parish hall.

The mother of four fled warn-torn Liberia in 2003, settled in New Hampshire and earned her U.S. citizenship last year.

"It's for the first time to vote in my life," said Massaquoi, 30. "I am an American now, so I'm happy."

Three of her four children live with her.

"If you have a kid or children like me, and you want help, you need to put the right person in the White House," said Massaquoi.

The nurse's assistant at Concord Hospital has encouraged others from her former country to vote, as well.

"If you don't like the President, you can vote for a different person at least," she said. "You have that idea of your voice being heard."

Amy Marchildon, director of new American services for Lutheran Social Services of New England, which settles refugees in the Concord-Laconia area, said arriving refugees first focus on settling their family and securing a job to become self-supporting. They often attend citizenship classes before taking a test as part of the naturalization process. Refugees must wait at least five years to apply for U.S. citizenship, she said.

Eva Castillo of Concord, arrived in the United States from Venezuela in 1976 as a student and became a citizen in 2008, just in time for the presidential election.

"Registering to vote was very important for me because I have worked in every single election since I came to the U.S. and I did not have the right to vote," the Manchester resident said by email. "It was very frustrating to see how those that had the right did not exercise it."

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Michael Cousineau may be reached at mcousineau@unionleader.com.

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