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Becoming a U.S. Citizen - 2002-04-17

English Feature #7-33928 Broadcast July 24, 2000

In July many communities in the United States traditionally hold naturalization ceremonies for new American citizens. Today on New American Voices you'll meet Alec Zama, born in Moldova in Eastern Europe, who took the oath of citizenship at one such ceremony held recently in the midwestern state of Iowa.

The ceremony at which Alec Zama became a new American citizen was simple and direct.

"The ceremony was held in the U.S. District Court in Des Moines, Iowa. It probably lasted somewhere close to an hour. Basically we had the clerk, who introduced the judge, so we all got up, and the judge came and congratulated us on becoming U.S. citizens. Then we took the oath of allegiance, and I had the honor to speak on behalf of the other 73 people that became citizens with. I told them what it meant to me to become a U.S. citizen."

The decision to apply for American citizenship was not an easy one for Alec Zama, but in the end there were a number of reasons why he did.

"First of all, by nature I like the world, and I would like to explore the world, and one of the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen is that I will be able to travel easier now as an American citizen as opposed to being a citizen of Moldova. And the second one is, that since I've been here for six years and I would truly like to participate in the American political process, and that would give me an opportunity to participate in that."

Mr. Zama applied for citizenship a year and a half ago by filling out an application for naturalization form, which asked for biographical data and information on what he had done since coming to the United States. This was followed by an interview with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Before being called to take the oath of allegiance, Alec Zama, like all applicants for citizenship, had to pass a test.

"I think they asked me four or six questions. Mostly it deals with the history of the United States and with the political process, the political system of the United States - who's the President, who becomes president if the President dies, and when the United States became independent, what's the 4th of July, what's the flag, how many colors in the flag, what do the stripes on the flag symbolize, and who's the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, how many congressmen and senators do we have in the United States, and then some local questions about the political system in Iowa."

Mr. Zama came to the United States in 1994. He says the country was not at all what he had expected.

"It's a - it was a completely - it's a different world. I was shocked by the people, and how nice and friendly they were, because obviously we were taught a completely different picture about Americans."

It was not only the people that were a surprise to Alec Zama when he arrived in the United States.

"The second thing was, I was so impressed by the computerization of the whole society. Basically, everything is computerized. And the stores, and the way they treat the customers, one of the things is customer service. And the way they treat people, indeed, it's something I think the whole world can learn from America."

After six years in America, some of Alec Zama's views of this country, and his expectations of it, have changed.

"When I came my expectations were that Americans were rich, and you don't have to work as hard here, and you have a good life. Obviously the truth is different. People build this country by working very hard, and obviously our goal, basically, as an American citizen now, we have to join those people and build this country [to be] the best it can be."

And what were Alec Zama's feelings on giving up his Moldovan citizenship and becoming an American?

"I felt a little bit - I cannot describe it - but probably sadness, and at the same time I felt I am becoming a citizen of probably the greatest country in the world, right now, and in my speech I said that I am truly proud to be an American."

Next week in this program - a look at a different group of new Americans. They are refugees, who come to this country fleeing persecution in their native land