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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

What Being American Means In Seattle

New American citizens take the oath at Seattle City Hall on Flag Day on Sunday.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery
New American citizens take the oath at Seattle City Hall on Flag Day on Sunday.

"I wanted to feel I belong."

On Sunday, KUOW partnered with CityClub, Citizen University and One America to celebrate citizenship and civic life at City Hall on Flag Day. The day started with a naturalization ceremony and ended with food, live music and an offering of resources for new citizens, including library cards, voter registration and "Civic Action Toolkits" to take home. 

We asked people there what being American meant to them. This is what they told us.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Batur Tarhan is a security officer at Seattle City Hall. ", "fid": "118339", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201506/IMG_6670.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Isolde Raftery / KUOW"}]]Batur Tarhan, Turkey

You're stuck in the middle.

You go there, and there are so many things that are not acceptable by you anymore. You feel isolated there. You don't feel it's your home anymore. You have an accent, and you don't know anything anymore because there have been so many changes.

And then you come here. It's your home; you live here. And when you land and you smell the air, and you go, 'I'm home.' But you're still between. It's not isolation, but you don't fit in 100 percent like any other American that was born here.

Tengyen Lin, Taiwan

[asset-images[{"caption": "Tengyen Lin", "fid": "118340", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201506/IMG_6699.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Isolde Raftery / KUOW"}]]Why did you move to the U.S.?

It's been my big American dream. Especially as a gay man actually. I have wanted to pursue the future not only for the career and studies, but also family and marriage.

Are you married?

Yes. My husband he is parking right now. He is on the way here.

Nima Ala, Iran

How long have you lived in the U.S.?

8 years, 5 months, and 15 days.

Was the process of becoming an American citizen difficult? 

Getting a visa as a student was challenging because there is no American embassy in Iran, so you have to go to another country to apply for a visa. But other than that it was pretty straightforward. I’ve always felt welcome here, even when I was here on a visa. So I never felt that I was not a part of this country, but now I officially and legally am a member, so that is really great. 

What do you miss about Iran?   

You definitely miss your friends. You miss your family who lives there. You miss a lot of the foods that you can't have here, but you lose something, you gain something. That’s just the game of life.

Adelaide Mohammed, United States

[asset-images[{"caption": "Adelaide Mohammed", "fid": "118341", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201506/IMG_6671.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Isolde Raftery / KUOW"}]]I am in training with One America to set up places where people who are going to get their citizenship can actually get classes.

I have been a Muslim for more than 40 years. In the third grade, I asked my mother, 'How can I become a Muslim?' She said, 'This is a good Christian home.' And that Christianity is their preference. And in order to become a Muslim, I would have to agree to wait until I was 18 years old.

I had to put a sign on the door when I began to pray so that my other brothers and sisters wouldn't be inconvenienced. I'd have to put my prayer mat out of sight. And I agreed that I would not talk about the diet. I would just leave it if I didn't want to eat something. And I promised to both my parents that I would never go to the Islamic temple without supervision.

When I became 18, my father and my mother – they're both now deceased – and my 14 brothers and sisters – they said yes, you passed your task. You may become a Muslim lady if you wish. They all hugged me and I went to a mosque with an escort. And I set about ready to take my declaration of faith with my parents' permission.

Flag Day to me means more than just a symbol of patriotism. The flag means that there is freedom. And I have my freedoms as long as I respect other people’s freedoms.

Falilat Bisi Amoo Cartwright, Nigeria

[asset-images[{"caption": "Falilat Bisi Amoo Cartwright", "fid": "118344", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201506/IMG_6736.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Isolde Raftery / KUOW"}]]I came here to go to school. I had a scholarship with my government in Nigeria.

I went to school at Corvallis, Oregon State University, and I like what America was like during the Reagan era, because Reagan’s philosophy was, “America is great, come see it!” That was why he did an amnesty. And the fact that he also was an actor.

I liked everything about America when I came and that was why I chose to become a citizen.

Diana Kim, Uzbekistan

Why are you becoming an American?

I really feel I wanted to feel I belong somewhere. The United States of America is such a great nation that it will be definitely an honor to be a citizen.

It's a responsibility as well, and so I think if I want to do something good in terms of just the United States or internationally – I want to represent some nation. And the United States gave me a lot of opportunities. It even opened me up as an individual. 

Nayeli Allen, Mexico

[asset-images[{"caption": "Nayeli Allen", "fid": "118345", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201506/IMG_6686.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Isolde Raftery / KUOW"}]]Do you feel American?

I do. I mean, I was born in Mexico, but I was only down there for a couple of years. I grew up here, and this is my home. And I feel like having the citizenship would make it complete. That's what I told them, my husband and my kids: "I get to become one of you guys today."

Thu-Van Thi Nguyen, Vietnam 

When did you come to the U.S.?

[asset-images[{"caption": "Thu-Van Thi Nguyen", "fid": "118356", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201506/IMG_3077.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Sara Richards / KUOW"}]]My family, my parents and 6 siblings, left Vietnam April 29, 1975 from Saigon. We were among the last evacuees. We were lucky to get out of Saigon that day, and that’s when we started our journey to the United States.

I’m a Washingtonian since 1975, [and] I became a citizen in the 1980s. Now working as an instructor of civics and U. S. History, I really feel for these new immigrant[s]. They’re so nervous – the language is not there for them and many of my students are illiterate.