Listen: Liberty's Children: A Celebration of Citizenship

Midday presents the documentary “Liberty's Children: A Celebration of Citizenship," produced by KLSE’s Carol Gunderson. The half-hour documentary profiles a Mayo Clinic medical student from Mexico and his struggle to become an American citizen. It also includes commentary from others on their experience in becoming a U.S. citizen.


1988 Catholic Academy Gabriel Award


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SPEAKER: Liberty's Children, A Celebration of Citizenship, is produced by KLSE Radio.

SPEAKER: Please rise for the oath and repeat after me. I solemnly swear--

AUDIENCE: I solemnly swear--

SPEAKER: --that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

SPEAKER: Well, I'm very, very excited. I've waited six years for it. I'm very, very excited.

SPEAKER: It feels very good. We have lived here for nine years and makes us feel that we belong here.

SPEAKER: I am very happy to be American citizen, and I am waiting this day from five years ago.

SPEAKER: And it just feels wonderful to be part of this country.

SPEAKER: It's going to be a big change in my life because I will be really a free man living in a free country. So I really look forward to it.

SPEAKER: It takes a lot of thought, but it's something that I decided to do just because I made the decision that I will live here the rest of my life. So why not just confirm that by becoming a citizen?

SPEAKER: And also gives us an opportunity to participate in all the political activities.

SPEAKER: As you believe it or not, when I came here, I couldn't talk English. And now I do a little bit.

SPEAKER: The fabric of this country's culture is a tapestry of nations. Waves of immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries brought 50 million people of all languages, colors, and creeds to the United States of America. This year, as we commemorate the 210th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the centennial birthday of the Statue of Liberty, we're on the crest of another wave of immigration.

Whether homeless refugees or men and women choosing their own destinies, each has a story to tell. Today, we'll follow the story of one young man's journey toward citizenship, a privilege most of us take for granted. Along the way, we'll talk with others who have pursued the dream of becoming a citizen of the United States.


JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ-CAMPOY: My name, as I was given a name when I was born, is Jose Miguel Gonzalez-Campoy. And since I became a permanent resident of the United States, to make it a little more American, I guess, I changed the Jose Miguel, which is the Spanish version of the names, to Joseph Michael. I've always gone by Mike, and that's been a problem because everybody calls me Joe. And I say, no, I don't look like a Joe. I don't feel like a Joe. I'm a Michael. I'm a Mike. So that that's my name. I am a Mexican citizen, still.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Michael is a second-year medical student in the process of becoming a US citizen. This year alone the St. Paul District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service will naturalize more than 6,000 people, and Michael hopes to be one of them. If he is, he will be the first in his family to reach the goal.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ-CAMPOY: The system in Mexico is not a good system of education. So the thing I had to decide was whether I want to stay or whether I want to leave, and I didn't want to stay. My family has been all important in getting me where I am. I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, and my dad taught at the National University of Mexico. He was teaching third-year medical students. And he was very disillusioned with the system.

CAROL GUNDERSON: So with the student visa in hand, Michael came to the United States. He had no problem with the language as his father had sent each of his five children to an American school in Mexico City, a costly venture to be sure, but Michael's father, Joseph Michael Gonzalez Sr., is following a master plan set in motion by his grandmother.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ: She took the family from Colima city to Mexico City and grown all her children, who were very well educated people-- physicians, lawyers. And she had the dream going to leave to San Francisco, California. She would be very, very happy to know that we are here because my children were educated in American college, and the future for them that-- what is important for my wife and me-- we believe that exists in this country.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Michael's father is still a year and a half away from becoming a citizen. Five years permanent residency in this country is required. Michael, however, is just weeks away from fulfilling that requirement, and his eagerness shows.

Early morning in St. Paul, trucks roar past the old main post office building where the Immigration and Naturalization Service office opens at 7:30. A line forms before 7:00. Michael is lucky. He gets a place second in line. And when the office door finally opens at half past 7:00 sharp, he takes a number and waits, not very long in his case.

He has all the forms, the birth certificate of his wife, his alien residency card, a marriage license, and then there are the passport photos. But Michael's visit is premature. Come back in two months when your residency requirements are met, he has told. More waiting. Nothing new, but a clear disappointment. Others, who, like Michael, have been through the naturalization process, have vivid memories of what it's like to petition for citizenship.

MARY MOORE: That was a horrifying experience actually to just go to that office and sit there.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Mary Moore is from Ireland. She became a citizen late last year.

MARY MOORE: You took your number, and you realized that you were, as they say, petitioning to become a citizen. And another word for petitioning is begging. And that's literally what you felt like, the beggars, and you lined up in chairs. And you realize the cross-section of the world that sits there-- peoples of all country, backgrounds, all colors, all languages, many of them with, I suspected, lawyers or immigration lawyers or interpreters in tow. Although, officially, you cannot become a citizen if you haven't got a working knowledge of the language of English. But I think, for many people, they may have a basic working knowledge, but it's still not sufficient to get them through the trials of these offices.

And we had-- there are no appointments. You just arrive, and you take your number, and you sit and sit. And we arrived at 8:30 one morning, and we sat until 10:15 before our number was called just to have our papers checked. In the meantime, you realize the hassles that other people go through to win this freedom and this privilege to become a citizen. You overhear snippets of conversation. And the day we were there, I heard one person being told, well, you need to go back to Tel Aviv. And I can imagine the sinking feeling of here you were in America, presenting papers, and being told that there was one missing, and you had to head back to Israel for it.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Those applying for citizenship consider the process in terms of months, weeks, days, and hours. It seems there are endless details to be ordered in between the waiting.

["AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL" PLAYING] God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea

CAROL GUNDERSON: For many who seek US citizenship, coming to terms with national identity is a difficult personal struggle. Mary Moore and her husband, Sean Breanndan took 12 years before they decided to take the oath of US citizenship. Even though they loved being in this country and had virtually raised their children here, it still took some time.

SEAN BREANNDAN MOORE: Well, it's a big step for several reasons. One is you are really being born again into another country. And secondly, the other side of the coin is that you have to willingly and knowingly, deliberately, turn your back on, as it were, the country where you were born and raised and have family and feel at home, as it were. When I say I grew into the idea of becoming an American, I realized finally that I could be American and truly feel American and feel a pride in this country and not lose what I feel about my own country back in Ireland.


On Sunday mornings-- I still do it-- I put on Irish music, and it brings me back. It sort of-- it puts my feet on the ground or makes me remember who I am, where I am, where I came from. And I suppose, more than anything else, it makes me think of the people back home who are still at home.


There used to be a phenomenon known as the American wake, which, even in my youth I remember seeing. And this is where the older people would gather around a young person about to emigrate to America, and they would have essentially a wake as if he was dead or dying-- or she-- because the way they looked at it was, although they're not going to die in America in the next few years, we will never see them again. So it's as if they are going to die. And it was a very sad occasion.

CAROL GUNDERSON: To leave your home and family behind is certainly a sad occasion. But for Sean Breanndan Moore and Michael Gonzalez-Campoy, it's a choice each made willingly. For others, though, there is no alternative but to leave their homeland. To them, the United States is a refuge.

In the last 10 years since the fall of Vietnam, this country has become home to some 780,000 refugees, many from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Since 1980, 60,000 to 70,000 refugees have been admitted each year.

SPEAKER: The first time I left home, I crossed half of the world. That's very hard. Never thought I'd come here, but the war-- the war make us do that.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ-CAMPOY: They come into a foreign culture speaking a language they never even thought about before. A lot of them don't even have an alphabet, and now they're forced to learn. Yeah, that's a big difference. You know, I made the decision to come here and to stay, and most of these refugees didn't.

[? CHUNG YUNG: ?] Hello, IMAA. Can I help you?

CAROL GUNDERSON: The Office of the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association in Rochester, Minnesota, otherwise known as the IMAA, is modest, located in an old house in a rundown neighborhood. But for the 2,000 or so refugees who've settled in Rochester, it is a haven of support. IMAA provides them with advice on how to find housing, a job, guidance on myriad social and even family problems.

And if the 20 or so workers at IMAA aren't dealing with a family trying to get food stamps or a young refugee who's having trouble adapting to high school, they're helping someone like [? Chung ?] [? Yung ?] become a naturalized citizen. [? Chung ?] and his family fled Laos in 1979 to escape the Communists. He is Hmong and at one time, like many other Hmong, worked with the CIA for the US military effort in Southeast Asia. When he left his homeland, [? Chung ?] was a high-ranking official in the Laotian army. Now he wants to become a US citizen.

[? CHUNG YUNG: ?] And the United States had the Constitution for the people, all the people. In other country, they had a different the constitution, like not true for the people, all the people. They are like--

CAROL GUNDERSON: [? Chung ?] is struggling with the language but continues his studies of US history in order to pass the oral exam given by immigration examiners to those wishing to become US citizens.

What do you have here now? You've got to tell me about this?


ESTHER COVERT: He has a signed autographed picture of the president, medallions, a flag, little lapel pins, letters.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Esther Covert is planning director for IMAA.

ESTHER COVERT: [? Chung ?] is really ready to become a citizen. I think, psychologically, he's ready, and he doesn't quite realize it yet, but in terms of information. He possesses enough information at this point to pass the test. One of the things that he, more than anything, wants to be able to do is to vote and be a part of that political process and, in some way, again, be one of the people that are affecting change in the country and taking part in the decision making.

In fact, two years ago, I went to his house during the election time, and he showed me a brochure he had received. It was some local candidate who was urging him to vote for him. And he was so excited because he said, look it, I'm going to be able to vote. I said, no, I don't think so. He said, yes, yes, they want me to vote for them. He wants me to vote for him. I said, well, it doesn't work that way, [? Chung. ?] This is an advertisement. He was a little upset.


[? WILLIAM HUAYANG: ?] I'm William [? Huayang. ?] I was previously a refugee from Laos and settled in the United States. And I'm 25 years old. I became a citizen in March 12, '86, at 3 o'clock.

CAROL GUNDERSON: The Laotian name of [? Chung's ?] younger brother, [? Hu, ?] is pretty confusing in our language. Now he's chosen an American name, William. But he's still getting used to it. So are his co-workers at IMAA. In 1979, William made the long journey out of his homeland with his brother. It was a journey with an unknown destination.

[? WILLIAM HUAYANG: ?] When we left Laos, we don't know they we'll be coming to United States. All we know is just to escape from the Communists. So that's why we escaped to Thailand. And then when we got to Thailand and we know that we can have a chance to go to other country, which is United States, Canada, France, and Australia. So we chose United States. All the Westerner countries, we know that United States will be the best choice for us.

KITA: I'm happy. USA accept me, let me become their citizen, and I'm sad to say goodbye to Vietnamese citizen. Can't go back there. When I go back there, it will be different. I never thought about it, to go to different country to become a citizen. That wasn't in my dream at all. Never thought about it.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Kita left Vietnam in 1978 at the age of 16. Like William, she works with refugees at the IMAA office. She, too, is now a US citizen.

KITA: Well, I'm glad I come here. I have a lot of friends come in different country. But by being studying here, while I'm in the first-world country, I love it. And I love the freedom here. I love all the people here. So another world-- I can't go back my country now. They will not accept me anyway. I escape over there. No way, especially I'm Indochinese.


JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ-CAMPOY: I guess that they were aborted. I aborted myself. You could ask me if I felt an urge to go back and contribute to Mexico. And Mexico, very unfortunately, is a great country and has great people, but there's no future for anybody there. And that's not the people's fault. It's the government's fault. And the government is in too much of control in Mexico for anybody to be productive there, I feel. And the best way for me to help anybody is to be the best that I can be. And I cannot be the best that I can be in Mexico.


You know, I've always felt that I didn't choose where I wanted to be born. You know, what nationality we have is something that is given to us. It's not something that we choose, unless you actually do what I'm trying to do. And very unfortunately, to me, being a Mexican is more of a detriment than an asset.

And the country is beautiful. The people are beautiful, like I said. But being in the system, I grew up-- I lived all my life in Mexico City, so I wouldn't know about the rest of the country, but I know about Mexico City. And Mexico City is corrupt. I saw lots of things that I just don't care for.

And maybe I'm being naive. Maybe I moved to a smaller town-- Rochester, Minnesota, 30,000 people, 40,000 people; Mexico City, 18 million. And maybe the things that go on in Mexico City do go on in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago or Detroit. But I'm not seeing that. So my view of the United States, as I see it from Rochester, Minnesota-- and this is where I may be naive-- is one that is completely different from the view that I had of Mexico as I saw it from Mexico City.


CAROL GUNDERSON: How are comparisons made, and who's to say in any given situation that life is better in one country versus another? Each person has to make that determination.

[? JOHN OJURI: ?] My name is [? John ?] [? Ojuri, ?] and originally I'm from Lebanon. I grew up in Lebanon, and it's been about six years since I moved to this country.

CAROL GUNDERSON: [? John ?] is a Maronite Christian from a small all-Christian town near Beirut. He worries about his mother, sister, and brother, who are still in Lebanon. The bombings in Beirut are just 30 miles away from where his family lives. And because of their beliefs, they are in as much danger, if not more, than if they lived in the ravaged capital city.

[? JOHN OJURI: ?] This is what the United States is good about and probably the best about, the freedom that you have here, the way of the mentality and the people think in here, that you will not have any problems or any wars, hopefully, because of different opinions, which is the main thing that is happening in Lebanon. Different opinions caused the war.

My dream, in the future, not only to become a citizen here but to help my country, my original country, to become like this country, with this kind of mentality of people, with this kind of business, with this kind of government that they have here, this kind of strong president that they have here. Of course, there's always compromises, but this is what makes the country so good. And this is what makes me--

CAROL GUNDERSON: [? John ?] considers the United States to be the land of opportunity. If he can become a citizen, then he plans to bring his family to this country where civil war is a lesson of history.

[? JOHN OJURI: ?] We are hard-working people. We are very honest people. We pay our taxes, do our job towards the country, and I don't see a reason why not. Just like anybody else that first came to this country, they had the chance to start. And this is probably what I'm asking for, is to have a chance in this country to start, probably, bring all my family and start something in here, live a happy life. Just like anybody else, probably, for your grandpa, it happened 250 years ago, but it's happening for me right now.

CAROL GUNDERSON: It is happening for [? John ?] [? Ojuri, ?] and it is also happening for Michael Gonzalez-Campoy, though not without a struggle.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ-CAMPOY: For a while, it was not the land of opportunity for me. When I was in college, I was not a resident of the United States. My status was that of a student. I had a student visa. And I wanted to study medicine in the United States, and I kept hearing-- and people pointed the finger at me and said, you're foreign, go back to your country.

So it was spooky. It was scary. It was not the land of opportunity for me. It took my marriage and my conversion to a permanent resident of the United States for people to look at me seriously. I'm still the exact same person. I know a little bit more because I'm done with college. But because I got married, I got my residency, and because I got my residency, everybody was looking at me. Now I'm a minority even. So people with affirmative action are very interested in minorities.


MONICA MILROY: And then I had all this bunting and flags, and it just so happened that I sort of was draped even in it-- a bit of red, white, and blue bunting.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Monica Milroy is from Scotland. She became a US citizen in 1976 and is looking at a photograph taken of her on the 4th of July several years back.

MONICA MILROY: --calling the kids in from the park. And somebody happened to take a picture. And I looked like the Statue of Liberty or something myself. We always laugh about it.

CAROL GUNDERSON: As Monica thumbs through photos of July 4ths gone by, it's clear she is emotionally connected to the country she chose. But she's traveled, too, seen a bit of the world, and knows from firsthand experience that this is a good place to be. However, it's not the only place.

MONICA MILROY: There's a tendency to automatically think that everything's better here than it is everywhere else, which isn't necessarily so. There's a funny patriotism of the people that are born and raised here. They just assume that, because they've been almost indoctrinated, that this is absolutely utopia almost. There's that attitude a little bit, which kind of bugs me sometimes, that nothing else anywhere else in the world could be quite as good. And that's not absolutely true.

CAROL GUNDERSON: Still, Monica Milroy loves this country and given the chance would line her living room with the many flags collected over the years.

MONICA MILROY: Oh, lots of flags-- state flags, Confederate flags. I've even got that very rare flag that I found that's only got 26 or 27 stars on it. That was just the amount of states there were for a brief period of time.

CAROL GUNDERSON: The rite of passage from one country into another. Michael Gonzalez-Campoy will realize his goal later this year, and Michael's father, he expects to eventually see each of his five children become a US citizen.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ: It's a dream of them, yes. It's all of them-- all of us intend to become American citizens in the future.

CAROL GUNDERSON: I see you fly an American flag out on your front porch.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ: Oh, sure, it's our pride. Yes, we are proud to have the American flag on our porch, especially in these times where United States is being attacked for many other parts of the socialist world. Yes, we are proud to have the American flag on our porch.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ-CAMPOY: Look at me. I'm in medical school here, and I'm looking forward to becoming a citizen. And it took us getting here for me to be where I am. It was a big step, and Dad took it for us. And it was hard, and he's still having a lot of second thoughts. But I think, in the long run, we're all going to be really thankful to him and Mom, both. [INAUDIBLE]

["AMERICAN TUNE" PLAYING] And high up above

My eyes could clearly see

The Statue of Liberty

Sailing away to sea

And I dreamed I was flying


We come on a ship they call the Mayflower

We come on a ship that sailed the moon

We come in the age's most uncertain hour

And sing an American tune soon

But it's all right, all right

It's all right, it's all right

CAROL GUNDERSON: Many of today's immigrants, unlike those earlier in the century, do not pass the tall, stately lady in New York Harbor. And those who do see Liberty for the first time as they enter this country generally see her from the air rather than from the crowded deck of a ship. In that respect, the times are different. But the oath of citizenship many of them eventually take is essentially the same, and the spirit with which they embrace Lady Liberty is every bit as earnest.

SPEAKER: With respect to the adults who are becoming naturalized citizens today, each has demonstrated at a preliminary hearing in our office that they can read, write, and speak the English language, that they have a knowledge of the history and government of the United States, and that they are people of good moral character, having lived in the United States and the state of Minnesota for the statutorily required period of time, usually five years. It's my privilege to recommend that you grant citizenship by administering the Oath of Allegiance to them.

SPEAKER: Thank you. Your motion will be granted. It is one of the pleasures of this position.

JOSEPH MICHAEL GONZALEZ-CAMPOY: When I become a citizen, then I will-- I guess I will be the same as everybody else in this country.

SPEAKER: I take these oaths freely--

AUDIENCE: I take these oaths freely--

SPEAKER: --without purpose of evasion--

AUDIENCE: --without purpose of evasion--

SPEAKER: --and declare today--

AUDIENCE: --and declare today--

SPEAKER: --that I am--

AUDIENCE: --that I am--

SPEAKER: --a true citizen--

AUDIENCE: --a true citizen--

SPEAKER: --of the United States of America--

AUDIENCE: --of the United States of America--

SPEAKER: --so help me God.

AUDIENCE: --so help me God.

MONICA MILROY: All of a sudden, you just-- you were a citizen. It was like being confirmed or, again, something almost religious about it. I just think, oh, what a relief. It's like getting married, one of those things.


SPEAKER: Liberty's Children, A Celebration of Citizenship, was produced and narrated by Carol Gunderson, associate producer Claudia Daly, studio production by John Gaddo. Liberty's Children, A Celebration of Citizenship, was a production of KLSE Radio.



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