For one immigrant, an American dream comes true

July 04, 2011|By Peggy Rowe

The two seemingly unrelated events took place only a day apart.

On the 19th of June, a 22-year-old Northern Irishman waved his putter in triumph on the 18th green of the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.

A day later, at the Park Shore Centre Government Building in Charleston, S.C., a petite, 41-year-old Thai immigrant waved her small American flag and held up her Certificate of Citizenship.

The golfer's victory was shared by a gallery of thousands. Millions watched worldwide as the young man broke records and told the press he had realized the dream of his short lifetime.

The Thai woman's victory in Charleston was a quieter affair, with a small group of onlookers. She broke no records in achieving the dream of her lifetime. Her accomplishment, much longer in arriving, was far more personal — but no less significant.

My husband and I first met Satathana-An Chanda eight years ago. Fortunately for the Rowe family, the shy young woman had a nickname: Pin. She had been in this country only a couple of months and was working as a hostess in a Thai restaurant in Florida where our son, Phil, lived. She spoke only two phrases in English: "How many are in your party?" and "Smoking or nonsmoking?"

Months later, when Phil announced that he intended to marry this visitor from Thailand, we had a hundred concerns. But as our son was no longer a child, and he was seeking neither advice nor approval, we kept them to ourselves. The following week, we joined the couple and a half dozen of their friends beside a waterfall in a Florida park for the ceremony — for better or worse. The tears we shed were genuine.

Seven years later, on June 20, we braved the sweltering heat of Charleston, S.C., for a different kind of ceremony. With pride, we watched our daughter-in-law raise her hand and take the oath of citizenship. Twenty-three strangers with vastly different stories had assembled before an immigration officer and an American flag to pledge their loyalty to the country of their dreams. This was the easy part for Pin.

For years, she had waited patiently: first for a green card, then for the tedious naturalization process to unfold. While working hard beside her husband in their small business, Pin learned our language and the American way. The costs accrued along the path to citizenship amounted to almost $4,000. Following an interview with an immigration official, Pin was given 100 questions to study about our government and our country. The six questions on her exam she answered confidently and correctly — a test that many lifelong Americans would find hard. But even this was not the difficult part for our daughter-in-law.

Seven years ago, Pin left a job and her home in the Udon Thani Province of Thailand. She said good-bye to siblings and to parents who worked for the school system — a custodian and a cafeteria worker. With a master's degree in engineering, 34-year-old Satathana-An Chanda followed her dream to a better life more than 8,000 miles away.

Pin still has dreams. She plans to work in her field sometime in the future, and she and Phil hope to one day open their home to her family,

I smiled as the immigration officer spoke of privileges accompanying citizenship, then encouraged the group before her to take their new responsibilities seriously: the right to vote and sit on a jury, the right to have a passport and join the military, the right to apply for a government job. While Phil beamed and took pictures of his wife, I thought back to the previous day and the U.S. Open. Rory McIlroy has, in his young life, already proved an asset to his nation and to his sport. I had no doubt that the woman holding up her American flag and Certificate of Citizenship will prove an asset to her new country.

Again, my tears were genuine.

Peggy Rowe, a former schoolteacher, lives in Perry Hall. Her e-mail is

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