Of Vegas, immigration and new local citizens

After spending a long weekend in Vegas, there would normally be plenty to write about that relates to this valley and the differences that are obvious. There’s the people in terms of sheer numbers and unique body shapes; there’s the night lights here that come from the Milky Way and the night lights there that come from pyramids and ginormous media screens; the immense amount of water flowing in the desert is amazing and the apparent lack of recycling is overwhelming; the traffic jams there were stuck behind trucks advertising lustful activities and traffic jams here are stuck behind cattle.

But honestly, one of the best things about the long weekend in Vegas was that I wasn’t watching news or checking the web so I didn’t get a dose of Donald for four days. That was fine. That was also made up in spades when I got home and checked in with Yahoo News. I saw we Americans betrayed our staunch allies the Syrian Kurds who helped us fight the Islamic State and that immediately resulted in a bunch of ISIS prisoners who hate America going free and the Kurds hooked up with Syria and Russia, both of which also sort of hate America. And Donald was a little surprised at that outcome. It all pretty much happened while I was playing poker. Cool… I’m sure that makes everyone proud to be an American.

Then I saw something about proud Americans living in the valley. I received an email at the office on Tuesday from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services public affairs officer Deborah Cannon about proud Americans—or soon to be proud Americans who reside here. “Nine people from six countries will become U.S. citizens tomorrow at 10 a.m. [in Grand Junction],” she wrote. “The citizenship candidates are originally from Denmark, Germany, India, Mexico, Netherlands and Thailand. They live in Cortez, Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, Durango, Gypsum, Montrose, Placerville and Telluride.” That really is cool. So I wrote back and found out that Thamonwan Woodward from Thailand and Chimey Dolkar from India were the ones from here getting sworn in.

As you read this, both are now U.S. citizens. That’s great. When the momo place closed its doors for the summer season I saw Chimey and Karma out on the Lower Loop quite a bit enjoying walks this fall. Always smiling and laughing and saying hello, they were obviously loving the off-season and one of the special places near this mountain village.

Thamonwan is better known as Nana and is married to Blake Woodward. I got them on the phone Tuesday afternoon on their way to GJ.

Blake, who brought Karma and Chimey over to Crested Butte to help with his store Mabuhay in 2006, said going through the immigration process was not easy. But Chimey and Karma had been persistent in the effort for more than a decade. Karma had been sworn in as a citizen about two months ago but Chimey’s name was spelled wrong so there was a two-month delay. In a great coincidence that Blake attributes to the “serendipity of the yin/yang” both Nana and Chimey got to be sworn in during the same ceremony this week.

“Getting citizenship is a big thing for everyone,” Blake said. “But for Karma and Chimey it’s bigger. They were expelled from Tibet in 1959 and then went to India and then Nepal and then America. They’re private people but I don’t think they’d be mad if I said they were excited to now have a country they can call their own.”

For Nana and Blake, the action brings a certain calmness and peace of mind to their family. The immigration situation right now in the United States is scary, he said. “Every time you leave the country, you don’t know what will happen. Trump started going after not just illegal immigrants but green card holders and that made us nervous. The administration seemed to be going after all immigrants. Nana, Chimey, Karma all had green cards but it was a sad thing to see what was going on. People are people.”

As an official citizen, the Woodwards don’t have the same worry about Nana not being allowed back in the U.S. after a spring break trip to Mexico or a business trip to Asia. “Being able to have an American passport is sort of like having a VIP backstage pass,” Blake said. “We travel a lot and it’s not fun. We can’t even be in the same lines at the airport. The immigration power is spooky.”

Nana said she started the application process last April. There were a lot of things to learn and she had to know the answers to 100 questions that might be asked. It seems she had to dig into things not every high schooler born in this country has to know—things like civics and U.S. history. And that’s something every kid should really be made to study and understand.

“I studied a lot and had to learn much history and how the government works. You learn about the three branches of government. You have to be able to read and write and speak English,” she said. “I’m really proud to be a U.S. citizen and now will be able to travel easier with two passports.”

Nana is originally from Thailand but probably knows more about how our republic works than many of the citizens I saw smoking for hours on end at the slot machines.

I’m pretty sure not every American I saw in Vegas could explain the three branches of government. I’d bet many couldn’t explain why Congress gets to start an impeachment inquiry if it wants to and doesn’t need King Donald’s okay to do so. If you learn civics you know that you can love the country and respect the government and not like the people running it—but still feel safe to say so. That doesn’t make you any less of an American. It is heartening to know that new citizens have to understand the process of our government.

Talking to Nana Tuesday, there was an obvious enthusiasm about becoming a citizen in America. The ceremony took place Wednesday morning. Blake and Nana said there were a couple of things they planned to do immediately. The first was to apply for a U.S. passport. The second was to register to vote. Both are privileges that come with earning the VIP backstage pass. Congrats to them and all of those living here who went through the process to become a citizen of this great country.

—Mark Reaman

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