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Stories of new U.S. citizens: A Canadian on what it now means to be an American

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

All this week, we've been hearing from newly naturalized citizens about what it means to them to be an American. We've heard the stories of people from Belize, Brazil and Mexico, from the U.K. and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For our final story during this Independence Week, NPR went to a naturalization ceremony in Baltimore.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Khadija Kamal Jafar Mohamed (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERTO BERROCAL'S "RELAXING PATRIOTIC PIANO MUSIC")

KHADIJA MOHAMED: Hi. My name is Khadija Mohamed, and I'm from Toronto, Canada. So my parents are actually from Kenya originally, and they immigrated from Kenya to Canada, which is where I was born, and then, in 2001, my mom was a nurse and had an opportunity to move to the United States to continue her nursing career.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERTO BERROCAL'S "RELAXING PATRIOTIC PIANO MUSIC")

MOHAMED: We moved from Toronto to Winston-Salem, N.C., when I was 9 years old. I'd never heard of it before, and I've been in the U.S. ever since.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERTO BERROCAL'S "RELAXING PATRIOTIC PIANO MUSIC")

MOHAMED: I think what motivated them to leave their country was just wanting better and being curious about other opportunities, to give me and my sister opportunity. I know that when we were first coming from Canada, like, when we moved and we're getting our first green card, that that was a really complicated process. Like, I can remember my mom being really stressed, seeing lawyers. It was, like, all of this, like, stuff, and it took us a few years to even get our first green card. I think I got my social security card in high school, which is why I still struggle to remember the number.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERTO BERROCAL'S "RELAXING PATRIOTIC PIANO MUSIC")

MOHAMED: My parents are divorced, and so my dad stayed in Canada. My mom has been here. She is still not a citizen, so I'm the first one in my family to get naturalized. You know, even after 20 years, when you're not a citizen, it kind of feels like you, like, have one foot in and one foot out, but that isn't the case anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERTO BERROCAL'S "RELAXING PATRIOTIC PIANO MUSIC")

MOHAMED: To me, being an American means a lot of things. I think it's being able to bring your own, like, unique perspective and culture to a pretty, like, diverse place to begin with, and so I feel like it's the opportunity to add my own experience to that that already exists here. For me, the biggest incentive is being able to vote, so civic engagement in a more official way. So I've never voted my entire life, so to me, that is, like, the biggest benefit, so being able to, like, have my voice be heard at the federal and at the state and local level. First stop - registering to vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERTO BERROCAL'S "RELAXING PATRIOTIC PIANO MUSIC")

MOHAMED: I think that we should be able to appreciate what we have and also critique what we have, and so that's what I'm most excited for. It's like, yes, I'm a U.S. citizen, and part of that, it is to make things better, and that comes with real critique and trying to push to make changes. And that's, to me, like, what makes the country better, moving forward and progress. I feel like the general discourse is, you should just be grateful to be here. Like, you left XYZ because this place is so great, and, like, if it's so bad here, like, go back to where you came from. If you are not making things better, then really, what's the point? This is where I am, and this is my country, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERTO BERROCAL'S "RELAXING PATRIOTIC PIANO MUSIC")

INSKEEP: Khadija Mohamed, a new U.S. citizen from Canada. Welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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