By Hardy Jackson
With all the discussion about illegal immigration, we often lose sight of the fact that every year the population of the United States is increased by immigrants who go through the legal process and become citizens.
Monique Pham is one of these people.
I met Monique when she made my feet look better than they ever looked before.
Monique is an immigrant.
Monique grew up in a little village outside Saigon. The war that affected so many people of my generation was over, but the scars on the landscape and the people remained. As the country recovered and rebuilt, her family began to look for opportunities that were not available to them in their home country. Like so many people in so many countries have for so many years, the Pham family looked to the United States.
It all began with her uncles. Thirty years ago they filled out the paperwork necessary to satisfy the bureaucracies there and here, and made their way to America. It cost them a lot – especially emotionally, for they had to leave family behind. Once they arrived, they began making a living and saving money to bring their other family members over.
Immigrants must have sponsors, so once the uncles had established themselves, they went through the application process to sponsor family members. Monique’s husband was among the family members they sponsored.
Once her husband had met all the necessary requirements – qualifying is no easy matter – he sponsored Monique. She arrived, got her green card, and went to work in the family business – manicures and pedicures. She had done this in Vietnam, so she took right to it in America.
Condensing the immigration-naturalization-citizenship process into a short column does not do justice to its complexity. There are many points along the way where it all might have come undone – the pitfalls that the great historian of immigration, Oscar Handlin, called the “brutal filter” that only the strongest and the most determined make it through.
More family members were brought over. As they arrived and went to work, the business grew. The Phams invested in their future, expanded the operation, and today they have a thriving spa in Redfish Village on Scenic Hwy 30-A, down on Florida’s Emerald Coast.
Two years ago the Phams had a son – an American citizen by birth – and Monique decided to apply for citizenship.
She was in the middle of the naturalization process and studying for her citizenship exam when I met her. As she turned my toes into works of the pedicurist’s art, we chit-chatted the way people do when someone is making their feet feel good. When the exam came up, I asked her what sort of questions she expected to be asked.
She told me how she had not only been told to study American history, the Constitution and how the government works, she was warned that she might be asked things like ‘who is the mayor of your town’ – which I figured was a trick question since there are no real towns with mayors along the Emerald Coast.
I wonder how many of us, dear readers, could pass such a test.
As she finished up and I admired her work, Monique told me that she was going to take the test in a week or so and I made a note to call her to see how she did.
With flying colors.
She did so well that after completing only 60 percent of the questions, they told her that she had passed and did not have to finish the exam.
Monique’s parents are still in Vietnam. They have never seen their grandson in person, though through the miracle of ‘Skype’ they have seen him on the internet. It is not as good as real life, but real life will have to wait. It is a long, expensive trip, and a difficult one for Vietnamese citizens. The government is reluctant to let them leave and must have assurances, usually in the form of property, that they will return.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, Monique is waiting for a call telling her to come to a certain place at a certain time. There she will raise her right hand and ‘absolute and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereign’ that might have had some claim on her in the past. Then she will promise to ‘support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”’
When that is done, Monique Pham, immigrant, will be Monique Pham, citizen, and the United States of America will be richer by one.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.