By Pat Jenkins
Sem Chan has little memory of arriving in the United States as a Cambodian refugee, but she’ll always remember the day she became an American citizen.
“It was amazing,” Chen said of the citizenship ceremony she participated in Sept. 22 in Tacoma.
The Spanaway resident and mother of twio was among more than 100 immigrants who completed the naturalization process and formally became citizens during the ceremony held at Mount Tahoma High School.
“I’ve always felt like I’m living the American dream. I’m so blessed to be here in this country. This makes it more final,” Chan said of her citizenship status.
She’s especially excited that she’ll be able to help elect a president this year for the first time.
“I was hoping I’d get this done in time to be able to vote,” she said.
During the Vietnam War, Chan immigrated as a young girl to Washington with her mother, sister and aunt. “I don’t remember much about that,” she said.
She grew up in Tacoma and graduated from Foss High School. She met her future husband, Yeng, also a Cambodian refugee, through his sister, a classmate in middle school.
Chan is close to finishing an internship at Madigan Army Medical Center and her studies at Bates Technical College as she prepares for what she hopes will be a career in molecular biology research. She said she’s always been interested in “doing laboratory work.”
Her 9-year-old twin children, Alyssa and Alex, were at the citizenship ceremony and “were excited. My daughter helped me study” for the citizenship test, Chan said.
Chan’s sister gained citizenship before her. Their mother hasn’t tried but might now that they’ve accomplished it. They’re encouraging her, Chan said, though the mother worries her English might not be good enough to pass the test.
This was the second year since Pierce County started holding a citizenship ceremony so that new local citizens don’t have to go to Seattle to participate in one.
“Pierce County is proud of each and every immigrant and refugee who makes the tremendous effort to complete the naturalization process. We embrace these new citizens and voters and want to honor them right here,” said county Auditor Julie Anderson, who helped lead the effort to bring the citizenship celebration to the South Sound area.
Organizatons and government agencies that worked with Anderson’s office to help arrange the federal ceremony include Centro Latino, Daughters of the American Revolution, Korean Women’s Association, Multicultural Self-Sufficiency Movement, OneAmerica, the Washington secretary of state, Tacoma Community House and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.
Last month’s ceremony helped commemorate Constitution Day, which originated in 1940 when Congress designated Sept. 22 as “I Am An American Day.”
Pocket-size copies of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and small American flags were given to the Tacoma ceremony’s approximately 500 audience members, many of them relatives of the newly minted citizens.