Stu Bykofsky: No griping about America from this group of immigrants

James Jang joins fellow immigrants as he is sworn in as a citizen of the United States during a recent ceremony at the National Constitution Center. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
James Jang joins fellow immigrants as he is sworn in as a citizen of the United States during a recent ceremony at the National Constitution Center. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 26, 2011

TONY BENNETT LEFT his heart in San Francisco. Sungmin Jang left his name, his culture and his career in South Korea to bet his future on the United States of America, but he's not complaining.

Now known as James Jang, he was among 25,000 foreigners embraced by America in naturalization ceremonies held during a week that included Constitution Day.

I talked to James, 33, and his wife, Christine, 30, after he had taken the oath of allegiance that very day, Sept. 16, at the National Constitution Center. James was grinning and clutching his precious citizenship certificate.

For Asians, qualifying for citizenship is especially difficult. In addition to a new language and customs, they must learn a new alphabet. In our chat, James often deferred to Christine, whose English is better than his.

As is often true for legal immigrants, the citizenship process was long and costly. Christine and James were members of the same church in Korea and were friends, but just friends. Christine and her family arrived here in 2001, achieving citizenship five years later and $30,000 lighter, much spent on legal fees.

That is a lot of money - too much, really - but they are not complaining, because a door to their dreams had opened.

James arrived in 2004 on a student visa. After he and Christine saw each other, what had been an old friendship blossomed into a new love in a new land.

It cost James seven years and $2,000 to become an American, but he's not complaining.

I asked James - he Americanized his name; his children are Daniel, 3, and Grace, 1 - what motivated him to leave his old life to launch a new one.

"American dream," he replied quickly, then, chastened by a look from Christine, he quickly added, "And I love her." Yes, men are men everywhere and sometimes need a poke to order their priorities.

Before marriage and motherhood, Christine attended Delaware Technical & Community College, then worked in accounting and customer service.

James, a university graduate, now works in a warehouse, a far throw from his job in South Korea as a TV director. He's not complaining, because he knows that his English is not good and that English will help him succeed.

On Constitution Day in Philadelphia, 48 new Americans were naturalized, representing 18 countries from Argentina to Vietnam. The citizenship candidates and their families filled a small auditorium, they sat through welcoming speeches, including one from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. They understood that it was a big deal.

They were an appreciative, demonstrative audience, if not Emma Lazarus' "wretched refuse" of a teeming shore. Many are educated, with their eyes fixed on a shiny future as Americans. They might not all succeed, but they know they are free to try, so they are not complaining.

For the small number of you who think that America is bad, or mean, or evil, come convince our new Americans. You'll die trying.

They don't measure America by a dreamy, utopian ideal, they judge America against realities of the world in which they had lived. Despite wars and recession, they cast their lot with us because they know that in the totality of liberty, opportunity and equality - even the freedom to fail and try again - America is matchless.

To some of you, this is flag-waving fiction. To our newest Americans, who have lived here for years while qualifying for citizenship, it is fact.

I asked James about his goals.

"English first."

And then?

"Open my business."

He's not sure what kind of business, but it doesn't matter. In America everything is possible, and that's why he's not complaining.

Email or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

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