For new citizens, nothing taken for granted on Independene Day

While you’re kicking back today watching those hamburgers sizzle on the grill, take a moment to imagine what it would feel like if you had just earned the right to be an American.

Try looking at America, with all its flaws and freedoms, without taking any of it for granted.

As if you had just been sworn in as a new citizen.

Try seeing the country born on this day 237 years ago through the eyes of someone like Ngaih Vung.

He came here from Burma, a country torn apart by religious strife, 10 years ago to study at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

“In Burma we don’t have much freedom like we have here,” he said. “Here, we have freedom to speak, and we can practice any religions here.

“Freedom is the main thing,” said Vung, one of 19 people from 14 different countries who solemnly raised their right hands at the Upcountry History Museum on Wednesday and swore to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty” to whom they had previously been subjected and to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

“I feel free,” Vung said after taking the oath and getting his picture taken beside a human-sized Statue of Liberty.

Or look at America through the eyes of Alexey Vertegel and Yuliya Yurko, a husband and wife from Russia who grew up under Communist rule, in Moscow and Siberia.

He now is a professor of bioengineering at Clemson University; she is completing her residency as a surgeon at Greenville Memorial Hospital.

They came here with green cards in 2003 and decided now was the time to become full participants in American life.

“We like the culture, we like the openness, we like the diversity,” Vertegel said. “We kind of became integrated some time ago, and we just saw it would be logical to become citizens.

“It was time to give back to the country. This country gave us a lot. We thought we should give back.”

Or open yourself to the land of opportunity that Heury Diaz of the Dominican Republic sees as he embarks on his life as a U.S. citizen.

“One of the most important things is that any dreams can come true,” he said. “If you’re working hard, if you focus on your goals, all dreams can come true.”

His dream was simply to have a nice job and reunite with his mother, who already lived here.

“I feel great,” he said after the ceremony. “It’s something that I really wanted to do. Before I became a citizen I already felt a part of this country because everything that I have right now is because I’m here.”

Like many of the new citizens, learning the language was the hardest part for him. He spoke no English when he came here seven years ago at the age of 20.

He was one of several new citizens from Latin American countries, some of whom came here as children, went to school alongside native-born Americans and have just now become fully American themselves.

Ivan Morales, 19, was one of those so-called Dream children. He came here from Colombia with his family when he was 5. He’s a graduate of Mauldin High and has attended Greenville Technical College.

“I feel free now,” he said after taking the oath. “You’ve got so much rights.”

He plans to defend those rights. He’s joining the National Guard.

Alejandro Sorcia, of Veracruz, Mexico, is of the same generation, coming here 17 years ago at the age of 10.

“It’s a miracle. It’s just like a dream come true,” he said.

What’s the first thing he plans to do with his new citizenship?

“I’m planning to register to vote,” he said. “And vote.”