Asian Americans’ Citizenship Stories Show Their Values are American Values
Asian Americans who swore an oath to become citizens reveal their motivations are values all Americans hold dear
On Citizenship Day each year, we reflect on the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American citizen, and recognize the people taking steps to become citizens themselves. This year, we’re also excited to announce that Advancing Justice | AAJC is joining the New Americans Campaign to help Asians in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia region through the naturalization process.
In the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area alone, more than 65,000 Asian American immigrants in the who obtained legal permanent resident status between 1985 and 2005 are eligible to naturalize but have not yet become citizens. About 96 percent of these are voting age. Over a million Asian American immigrants nationwide are eligible to become citizens. As our Executive Director Mee Moua stated in a press release this morning, “Thousands of Asians are eligible to naturalize in this region, and when they do, political candidates will no longer be able to ignore this growing political force.”
So as we work to encourage members of our community to begin the process of becoming citizens, we also celebrate those who have already been through it.
I arrived in the U.S. in November, 1999 from Fiji. I was 44. There was social injustice in Fiji following the military coup and I was being overlooked for promotion because of my Indian ethnicity, so I left to try my fate in the U.S.
I wanted to do everything right, so I converted my tourist visa to a student visa. After I finished my Associate degree, I was given a work-related visa for a year, but when my work visa expired I had to go back to school. After graduating I was unable to join the work force without a green card, so continued to work as a janitor. It was nearly ten and a half years before I finally received my green card through my daughter, who became a citizen through her U.S.-born spouse.
It felt so great. The crowd and the celebratory atmosphere was wonderful, and I was surprised by the number of people that got naturalized (672) and the 73 countries that they all came from! I was so honored to be part of this. And now I can register to vote in local and federal elections and very much look forward to voting in the presidential election next year.
I emigrated from Korea in 1996 right after my marriage to a Korean American who I met at my workplace in Korea. Even before I met my spouse, I had dreamed of coming to the United States to study.
At first, life was not easy because of language and cultural barriers, even though I had studied English at school and had friends who were foreigners. I had to work to financially support my spouse and myself until he finished law school. And then, I was able to start law school myself, which was my dream.
When I got naturalized in 2001, it finally felt like I was not a guest in this country anymore and this country became my own country. The decision to become a citizen was more meaningful to me because it was my free will to choose to become one. Because adopting this country was an exercise of my own free will, I think I feel more responsible and loyal to the country than I would otherwise. I am also thankful to this country for being diverse and providing me with many opportunities.
I won’t ever forget the moment I took the oath of allegiance at my swearing-in ceremony. It was a very touching and emotional moment for me. I truly became part of this racially and culturally diverse country then.
Hear from more naturalized Asian Americans, and use this #CitizenshipDay to share what being a U.S. citizen means to you.