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Winonans celebrate new citizenship (09/29/2013)
By Chris Rogers

Photo by Chris Rogers
     Mailee Xiong (left) and Yang Vue (right) are proud, new U.S. citizens.
"I will support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies," Winonan Yang Vue pledged during her Oath of Allegiance to the United States last month. Vue and Mailee Xiong joined the proud group of Winonans who became U.S. citizens this year. The Hmong-American women joined immigrants from countries all over the globe in celebrating their new status. Vue and Xiong were both born in Thai refugee camps to Hmong parents who fled violence in Laos and eventually came to the U.S. in the early 1990s.

"We have been refugees for a long time," Vue said. As a refugee, "people don't know who you are; you never have a voice." Finally becoming a citizen, "means a lot to me," she continued. "We belong to this country now."

"It's a big deal," agreed Project FINE Director Fatima Said. "It is the culmination of our hopes and dreams."

Xiong and Vue will be able to vote, hold public office, help relatives apply for citizenship, and check "Yes" when asked about their citizenship on job applications.

"I kind of pushed her to get it," said Vue's husband and Project FINE Program Development Coordinator Chong Sher Vang. "It is a huge relief. It is a huge challenge to overcome. To finally put in the paperwork and receive the certificate it's amazing."

In his time with Project FINE, Sher Vang has helped immigrants fill out the paperwork to apply for citizenship and quizzed them with decks of flashcards on American history and government to prepare for the exam they must pass to earn their place alongside voting Americans. (See sidebar to try some of Sher Vang's sample questions.)

"I was nervous" as I waited for my exam, Xiong said. "I didn't know what questions they would be asking." Would she be asked to explain the Emancipation Proclamation or describe the Bill of Rights?

"You have to study. If you don't study you are not going to do well," warned Vue.

Xiong did pass, and, for her, it was the climactic moment of her path to citizenship. She paused, smiling, when asked about the moment. "In a way I don't know how to explain it you are proud of yourself."

Project FINE hosted a celebratory reception for new citizens last Friday. 


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