World / Reporter's Journal

US welcomes new citizens 'home' on its birthday

By Zhang Yuwei (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-07-07 06:21

US welcomes new citizens 'home' on its birthday

Shanghai native Ye Min'an, 60, became a new US citizen last week in New York. [Zhang Yuwei / China Daily]

Harlem resident Ye Min'an called this past Fourth of July holiday a very special day in his life.

"It's a most unforgettable day for me, now as a US citizen," said Ye, a 60-year-old Shanghai native who moved to the United States five years ago.

Ye was one of 150 immigrants from 46 countries — including 11 Chinese — who attended a naturalization ceremony at the New York Public Library last week to celebrate Independence Day.

With the freshly-printed naturalization certificate in hand, Ye said his journey to the US was a steep one. He applied for permanent resident status, or a Green Card, through his father who moved to the US in the '90s. After years of waiting, Ye arrived in New York five years ago with his wife. He was 55 at the time.

Like many other new Chinese immigrants to the US, the language barrier has been a problem for Ye. A former accountant for a Chinese manufacturing company in Shanghai, Ye has been working as an office clerk in a nursing home in New York's Chinatown.

"That was the best opportunity I could get given my age," said Ye, who gets paid the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

For Ye, he knew that would be the case before he chose this path. "It's for a better future of my son," said Ye. His 30-year-old son still lives in Shanghai and is waiting to join Ye and his wife as soon as his visa is approved.

Immigrants, who now account for about one in eight Americans, are helping with job creation in the US economy, according to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Partnership for a New American Economy.

The purchasing power of Asians, many of whom are immigrants, alone will reach $775 billion by 2015, according to the Immigration Policy Center.

Kevin Feng, a 25-year-old financial analyst in New York, was one of the 11 Chinese who attended the naturalization ceremony at the NYPL. His story is a bit different from Ye's. Feng moved to the US from Shanghai with his parents when he was four.

"I chose [to become naturalized] out of convenience for travel," said Feng, a graduate of Rice University. "I don't feel much has changed, because I've lived here for 20 years and I've always felt I am an American."

Feng reflects a new group of Chinese immigrants to the US who are young and well-educated, as more and more US universities become home to Chinese students and distinguished scholars.

In the 2012-13 academic year, 235,597 students from China were studying in the US — up 21 percent from the previous year — according to the Institute of International Education.

"Today, we witness with great pride the numerous students who are leaning Chinese in our schools and universities, and how we have come to prize the rich Chinese culture and civilization," said Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, an education foundation created by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

"The annals of American higher education include many illustrious Chinese scientists, mathematicians, doctors, inventors, engineers, Nobel Laureates, Rhodes Scholars, thousands of National Merit Scholars, and Phi Beta Kappa graduates," Gregorian said.

Gregorian said Chinese immigrants have a meaningful, historical connection to the US, where the Chinese helped build railroads, bridges and other infrastructure facilities.

"When we talk about the contributions of Chinese Americans, we start with the wave of immigrants who came to this country around 150 years ago as heirs to a great civilization," he said.

Chinese-American composer Tan Dun, designer Vivienne Tam, and YouTube cofounder Steve Chen were among the 41 immigrants from more than two dozen countries honored at the 2014 "Pride of America" awards from the Carnegie Corporation. Other honorees included Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, US Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard, authors Reza Aslan and André Aciman and others in a range of fields.

"It reminds us of what Chinese Americans have done, what they are doing, and what they will continue to do to strengthen America's democracy, society, economy and institutions," Gregorian said.

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