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New US Citizens Join 'One Great Nation, Who Can Dream Big' - 2003-11-26

Each year tens of thousands of people from all over the world complete the requirements to become U.S. citizens and attend ceremonies where they take the oath of citizenship. In many cases the new citizens are children whose parents have immigrated to the United States.

The song was performed for the new citizens by four sisters whose parents immigrated to the United States from central Mexico. Out in the audience sat 107 U.S. residents who had come here to be sworn in as new U.S. citizens. They represented 29 nations and all but a few of them were minors, brought to the Houston immigration center by their parents.

They were greeted by the man who organized the event, Houston Citizenship and Immigration Office Director Hipolito Acosta

"There are many of you who are deriving citizenship from your parents and I think that is a wonderful gift that your parents are bestowing on you today," said Mr. Acosta. "I think that there is no more treasure that could be given to you by your parents who have immigrated from many different countries and cultures to become an American and, as you can see, we come from many, many countries."

The main speaker at this event was former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, who has established himself in a second career as a businessman in Houston.

"You may look around you at one another and maybe see lots of differences, but the one thing we all have in common is we can dream big," said Mr. Foreman. "Today is a wonderful day to look around not only at the differences, but at what we have in common - one great nation."

Speaking to VOA, Mr. Foreman said he feels compelled to reach out to these young new citizens because of something he learned from an immigrant when he was a young man.

"He was a citizen, but he was not born in the country, he was born in Sweden," he recalled. "He was a body-building instructor. He said, 'Don't worry about what people call you. You are an American and nobody can take that away from you. That is your name.' It changed my whole life. It really did. So, when you think about it, when there is a young person about to get that distinction, you have to pound it in to them that dreams can come true if they really know where they are."

One of the young new citizens Mr. Foreman greeted here in Houston was 14-year-old Hao Nguyen, whose family came here from Vietnam 10 years ago. He says he has only been back to Vietnam once, but that he feels linked to both nations.

"When I was in sixth grade I went back there to visit family there," he said. "It is still my country. I am an American citizen now, but I am still Vietnamese."

Other children of immigrants, however, make no mistake about which country is theirs. Having been exposed to American music, movies and television from an early age, and having gone to school here, they have become completely acculturated.

David Iraheta, an immigrant from El Salvador, brought his 11-year-old daughter Sara to take the oath of citizenship at this ceremony. He says she enjoyed visiting El Salvador but that she does not regard it as home.

"I tease her and ask her 'Would you like to go back?' And she says, 'No way,'" he said. "So I can see that already she is American completely and that place [El Salvador] is just like a place you have visited, like you went on vacation and have good memories about it."

This year some 16,000 people will take the oath of citizenship in Houston. Tens of thousands more will do so in other cities across the nation. An even larger number of people who currently reside in the United States with resident visas have applied for citizenship and are part of the immigration service backlog. In some cases, such as when the child or other close relative of a citizen is applying for citizenship, the process can move along relatively fast, but for others there could be years of waiting.

At the ceremony in Houston, the smiles on the faces of the new citizens and their families made it clear that, however long the wait, many people consider it worth it as long as they and their children can enjoy the benefits of being U.S. citizens.