Coveted citizenship comes at high price

first_imgI HAVE a different perspective on why people come to this country. In January, my wife, Quyen, took her oath for U.S. citizenship at the San Diego Convention Center alongside 1,305 other immigrants from 99 countries. Ever since she came to America from Vietnam, she has dreamed of being a U.S. citizen. That’s something many native-born citizens fail to appreciate because people often take for granted what is given to them. For Quyen, the process has spanned over 30 years. Along the way, she experienced the Vietnam War up close and nearly lost her life fleeing a war-ravaged nation. When she finally made it to the U.S., she encountered a bureaucratic maze of obstacles to U.S. citizenship that necessitated endless phone calls and trips to the U.S. immigration offices, and stacks of applications and forms all involving fees, fingerprinting, interviews, studying, exams, delays, and, mostly … waiting. It’s often thought that people from poor countries flock to the U.S. in search of material wealth and opportunities. According to Ronald Takaki, author of “Strangers From A Different Shore,” there are “push/pull factors” that cause people to migrate. Pull factors include employment opportunities and dreams of riches in the form of gold mines that drew the Chinese to California in the 1850s. Push factors include the droughts and famine that propelled thousands of Koreans to set sail for the U.S. in the early 1900s. My wife’s quest for citizenship began after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Her father had worked as an agriculture specialist for the previous government, and this caused the Communists to view her family with suspicion. Her family members lost their livelihood and experienced persecution and abject poverty under the Communist regime. They had to leave. Quyen bartered the last of her possessions for a spot on a fishing boat hiding 65 refugees trying to escape Vietnam. At sea, a Communist patrol boat spotted her boat and ordered it to halt. When the fishing boat didn’t stop, the patrol boat shot at, then rammed into it, causing it to capsize. The patrol boat circled the victims in the water to create harsher waves for the people struggling to swim. Many didn’t know how to swim, and children as young as 2 died. Only when another fishing vessel approached and intervened did the patrol boat speed off. The fishing vessel took 30 survivors to shore and delivered them to Communist authorities. The other 35 refugees had drowned. The Communists confined my wife in a 20-square-foot cell for months with the other survivors as punishment for attempting to escape. She slept on bare cement without enough space to turn over because of the bodies huddled next to her. Quyen’s older brother escaped Vietnam on another boatload of refugees into Malaysia. He eventually made his way to the U.S., where he worked three jobs at once to send money back to my wife’s family. As soon as he became a U.S. citizen, he sponsored Quyen’s family. It took eight years for that process to bring my wife and her family to America. It took another 10 years for my wife to obtain her permanent resident card and another five years to qualify for the citizenship test. In the months prior to her exam, Quyen studied as if her life depended on it. Every night, she would take out her list of 100 questions about our country’s history and government and go through five at a time until she knew all the answers. So when I watched my wife stand and take the oath of U.S. citizenship, I couldn’t have been prouder, because I know what she went through. We understand why people come to America, whether legally through the endless hoops Quyen had to jump through, or illegally through whatever channels are available. Like the earliest immigrants to this country, we want to survive, escape persecution, and help our families. We contribute to this society and want to be a part of it. We deserve a fair chance to do so. Ray Wong writes a family column for Asia, a San Diego newspaper. Write to him by e-mail at [email protected] AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more