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Newest Citizens talk about America - 2002-04-17

English Feature #7-33905 Broadcast July 17, 2000

Sixty-nine people from twenty-four countries became new American citizens on July 4th at a ceremony at Monticello, the elegant mansion on a hilltop in Virginia that was the home of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. Today on New American Voices some of these new citizens talk about their reasons for applying for citizenship, and about their impressions of this country.

The group of the men, women and children who became U.S. citizens during the ceremony at Monticello came from all over the world. The largest number - fifteen - came from China. Nine each emigrated from the United States's closest neighbors to the north and south, Canada and Mexico. Others came from India, Russia, Poland, Iran, Taiwan, France, Bolivia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Pakistan, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

Although their homelands, ages, races and faiths were so varied, their reasons for wanting to become American citizens, and their views of this country, were not all that different. Mahmoud Kashani came to this country from Iran in 1983. He's forty years old, unmarried, and works as a computer software engineer. He says there's a lot to like about the United States.

"I mean the fact that there's so many opportunities for work, for life, things that you can do, and the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the fact that you can express yourself freely…"

Mr. Kashani's reasons for applying for American citizenship were partly ideological and partly pragmatic.

"One of the things would be the freedom to work wherever I like, I can apply for a lot of jobs that need citizenship. You know, there are some government contractors that require citizenship, so that's important. The fact that I can actively voice out my concerns by voting, that I can be an active member of society. And also, if I like to travel it's a lot easier if I have my citizenship, so there are a lot of advantages, yes, to getting my citizenship."

Sitting next to Mr. Kashani at the naturalization and Independence Day ceremony at Monticello was Xuanyuan Wang, a native of China. Mrs. Wang, also forty years old, came to the United States with her small daughter in 1988 to visit her husband, who was a student here. A registered nurse in China, here she enrolled in school to study accounting, and eventually decided to stay. Like Mr. Kashani, Xuanyuan Wang also likes the opportunities she found here.

"I think it's a lot of free choice. For instance, in China, most likely once you graduated from college you just keep on working, you don't have much choice, back to school to learn anything new. But here, as long as you're willing to learn you always have a chance to go back to school, and then you can make your life, you know, by choice."

But for Mrs. Wang, the freedom of choice in America can also be a liability.

"I think a lot of choice, if you are wise enough to make the choice, of course, you know, that's a good thing. But sometimes, I said to my daughter, American society you have more freedom than you can handle."

Another new citizen, Dr. Satishkumar Patel, is 34 years old and a kidney specialist. An Indian, he emigrated to the United States from Mombasa, Kenya, where his family had lived for several generations. What does Dr. Patel like about the United States?

"Well, there are likes and dislikes. Let me start with my dislikes. As much as civil rights has happened in the last fifty years, we still require a lot of changes to be made on the civil rights issue. I mean to say, I have been in this country for the past five years, and what they talk about equality, it's more superficial. Deep inside there's still not much of equality for the different races in this country, and that needs to be changed."

And as far as the "likes" are concerned, Dr. Patel echoes, in somewhat different words, what both Mrs. Wang and Mr. Kashani said.

"The likes is that you can be anything that you want in America. That's the good part about it. There are obstacles, it's only the racial issue and some other things, but if you overcome that I think you can be what you want to be."

Citizenship ceremonies like the one at Monticello were held in many communities in recent weeks. Next week on New American Voices we'll talk with a newly naturalized American who lives in Iowa about the process of becoming a citizen.