Friday, September 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> One family’s journey to America

The Kwangkeow family celebrates after Mike was sworn in as an American citizen at the Clinton Library on Thursday.

Mike, right, during the singing of the national anthem at this oath ceremony.

Leader senior staff writer

When the Arkansas lottery kicks off later this month, how can anyone win a prize dearer than that won by Visarut “Mike” Kwangkeow and his family about seven years ago?

The Kwangkeows, interested in emigrating from Thailand to the United States to pursue the economic and educational benefits, were chosen by lottery to be allowed to immigrate, Mike remembers.

Today, his parents are about 55, his brother is 27, his sister is 31 and he is 19.

Thursday, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright swore him in as a U.S. citizen.

A Parkview High School graduate, Mike has worked about 20 hours a week since August 2008 at The Leader doing layout and graphic design. And while his English needed some tuning up when he arrived to the U.S., today he understands and speaks English like a native, sometimes even adding a little slang to his sentences.

He’s in his second year at Pulaski Technical College, where he’s studying graphic arts and computer science.

He immigrated with his mother, father and older brother. His sister joined them about a month ago. The family lives in Jacksonville.

Saturdays they sell pan-Asian delicacies in a concession trailer at the Beebe flea market. Their featured treat is the Sam egg roll, named for his father.

Before they immigrated, both of his parents were teachers in Chainat, he said.

Since arriving his mother has worked at Walmart in Jacksonville.

His brother works at Maybelline.

Being a citizen will open up a lot more opportunities, he said. “It’s something to be proud of.”

“We knew there was a better standard of living, a lot of opportunity to make many things happen,” he said.

Still, he does miss friends and the traditional Thai cooking, and toward that end, his mother and sister both dream of opening a restaurant here, one of the traditional paths employed by immigrants seeking a piece of the American dream.

The family was supposed to settle in California. But his mother had a friend living in Jacksonville who opened her home to them while they were getting settled.

“We like it here,” he said.

Mike said that in the U.S., “It’s easier to be myself, to make a living and to live a happy life.”

“I do feel different. Now I’m an American,” he said.