Linda Nguyen applies nail polish to Joy Huynh while her parents, Don and Cindy, naturalized U.S. citizens, watch proudly.
Written By Susan Fair, Photos by: Gregory Blank
The mood in the Fallon Federal Building in Baltimore was solemn. A dozen or so people from nations around the world were about to take part in a Naturalization Oath Ceremony, the final step in their journey to becoming U.S. citizens.
But Carroll County resident Don Huynh, an immigrant from Vietnam, was undaunted, passing his pre-ceremony citizenship test with ease. “I was very steady,” remembered Huynh. But as the actual ceremony got underway his anticipation grew.
Receiving his long awaited naturalization certificate, Huynh said, “I was very excited for that moment to come!”
As the ceremony concluded, the atmosphere in the courthouse changed from judicial seriousness to elation. An exuberant Huynh stood with the other participants facing a large American flag, took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and said the Pledge of Allegiance.
He was officially a citizen of the United States.
As another Independence Day approaches, many of those who live and work in Carroll County prepare to celebrate as they have all their lives: picnics, fireworks and other traditions often taken for granted.
For those like Don Huynh and others who were not “born in the U.S.A.” but chose it as their adopted home, often with the hope of building better lives for themselves and their families, the 4th of July can be especially significant.
Huynh and his wife Cindy, also a naturalized citizen born in Vietnam, shared their first entrepreneurial experience in 2000 at Independence Day festivities in Washington D.C., selling that iconic American food, hot dogs. Working in the heat from 5 a.m. until midnight at a concession stand on the National Mall, the couple came away exhausted but satisfied.
“The U.S. is all about opportunity,” Don Huynh said in the back room of his business, Pro Nails Spa and Salon in the TownMall of Westminster.
In the room, as Huynh prepares for another 12-hour day, there is a playpen and other signs of child tending. He and his wife take turns minding their children, Joy, 4 and Jennie 1, skillfully juggling parenthood and their clients. They do not complain about their long days.
“We focus on our kids and the future,” said Huynh.
Don Huynh originally came to the U.S. in 1992 to start a Chinese herb business, but, he said, ÔThe deal was broken.” This disappointment, however, started a fortunate chain of events:
“It was winter time,” he said. “I feel bored and lonely so I go to nail school and that is where I find her (Cindy),” he said. The pair has been married for almost 10 years.
That was almost the easy part. Becoming a U.S. citizen takes a commitment of both time and money.
Robert Barry Toth, an attorney with Immigration Matters LLC in Frederick, MD who was recently awarded the D.A.R. Americanism Medal honoring him for his work with immigrants, said that, depending on circumstances, the process of becoming a citizen can take as few as four or as many as twenty years or more.
“It can be a long road,” he said. Price can vary as well: including legal fees, an immigrant can expect to pay between $3,000 and $5,000, with costs in some cases going to $10,000 and beyond.
Toth knows the process well. Not only has he consulted on over 4,000 immigration cases, he is an immigrant himself, arriving from Hungary as a child and becoming a U.S. citizen at the age of 16.
For Lina Ocasio, making the U.S. home was a gradual process; and not because of red tape and paperwork. Working in corporate technical support, she found herself frequently visiting the U.S. from Colombia, South America, for seminars and business trips. Before long, the U.S. was a vacation destination as well.
“I wanted to learn more about the culture,” she said. She eventually married, and the fact that her husband was from Puerto Rico made becoming a citizen easier. At her Naturalization Oath Ceremony six years ago, Ocasio was happy. “It was very exciting for me. I was happy to be an American citizen.”
Today, Ocasio, an administrative assistant in the religious education department at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster, says that although she has come across people who are less than friendly when they detect a foreign accent, she likes Carroll County.
“It’s quiet and peaceful,” she said. “It’s a good area to raise children.” And as for the 4th of July? “Of course we celebrate!” she said. “My husband is from here and now it’s my home too.”
Irina Golovina came to the U.S. from Kazakhstan in 1998 and became a U.S. citizen in 2003.
“We had a chance and we took it,” Golovina said. “We have a big family here, so it was like a family reunion.” A longtime IT services technician for Carroll County Public Library, Golovina said that the U.S. started to feel like home when she began working for the library system. “They (her co-workers) made me feel like I was always here,” she said.
Golovina now lives in Reisterstown with her husband and two children. On July 4th, “All the family gets together and fireworks are our favorite part,” she said. “We understand what July 4th means for the U.S. and all people living here.”
“We do celebrate July 4th. It means freedom and hope,” said Westminster resident Evelyn Quintanilla. A native of El Salvador who now works as a customer service representative, Quintanilla came to the U.S. in 1989 and went through the citizenship process, which, she said, “took some time.” She relates that she and her family chose this country, “Éto have a better life, opportunities.”
At his 4th of July cookout last year, attended by both Vietnamese and native-born American friends, Don Huynh could not help but see a metaphor in the cultures represented in the picnic feast: a table arrayed with traditional Vietnamese dishes, as well as Chinese food, Korean beer, hot dogs, hamburgers, American cheese and potato salad.
“American traditions change with its people,” said Huynh. “We’re lucky. We have everything in this country. We have so many choices and opportunities. And on the 4th of July we can celebrate with Korean beer, American cheese, or both.”
A local woman who preferred to remain anonymous became fast friends with the Huynhs after meeting Cindy in 2003. She helped the couple through the naturalization process, along with other details of American life, such as acquiring health insurance. She was among those present at the memorable 4th of July picnic, and she said she finds the Huynhs inspirational.
“I was driven to help them as I pictured myself navigating the same circumstancesÉI grew up in a family where we lived by one basic principle: ÔLove thy neighbor.’ ÉDon and Cindy are lovely people and my family and friends have been enriched through our relationship with them.”
Don Huynh has now worked in Carroll County for more than 8 years, and has lived in Westminster with his family since 2005. He and Cindy will soon be expanding their business to include natural herbs, acupressure and massage.
“I don’t miss over there,” he said of his native country. “America is number one to me. In Carroll County there are a lot of nice people. That’s why we stayed. We worked hard and we got lucky.”
Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States
During the naturalization oath ceremony, new citizens are required to take the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States. (A modified oath may be available in some circumstances if religious training or beliefs prevent taking the standard oath.)
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”