I was born in a small village in Surin province in Thailand. I first visited the United States 17 or 18 years ago because I fell in love with Bill and I wanted to be with him. We met in Bangkok where I worked as a cook in a hotel restaurant. After we met we stayed in contact. He visited Thailand many times and every time he came back he connected with me. That’s how we started a relationship.

Our love was growing stronger and stronger, and in 2013 Bill and I got married. I applied for a green card. After I had a green card I could apply for citizenship. We didn’t like the uncertainty of renewing a green card. And even with a green card, when I traveled I didn’t like coming back to the United States and going through immigration at the airport. It always made me nervous. They always asked a lot of questions and one time they stopped me for two or three hours to answer their questions.

Noi heads in to take his citizenship test, nervous but very prepared. He passed with flying colors! (Photo courtesy of Noi)

I found a lawyer to help me apply for citizenship, but still I worried. I wanted to make sure I knew my American history and that I understood the types of questions they might ask. So I took a two-month-long citizenship class at the local library in Portland, Oregon where we live now. I only had a few friends in Portland before I went to the class, but that changed after I began attending classes. There were probably 30 students in my class, and I became really good friends with about a third of them. One is from Ethiopia, three from Vietnam, two from China, and the others are from Cameroon, Venezuela, Russia, and Japan. I am the second in this group to become a citizen. When I returned to class the day after my citizenship ceremony everyone congratulated me. Even now that I am a citizen, I am still going to classes at the library where I study English grammar and conversation.

Noi is overjoyed to become a new American, and to have his husband Bill standing by his side to mark this pivotal moment. (Photo courtesy of Noi)

When I took the citizenship test I felt very well prepared. But even though I knew the answers to 100 potential questions, my heart was pounding. Then the immigration official only asked me six! She told me if I answered the first six questions correctly she wouldn’t ask me the rest, and I thought to myself, “No! Ask me more.” It was much easier than I thought. After becoming a citizen, I felt complete relief.  I was even able to register to vote right away; someone approached me right after the ceremony. In the following days, I also immediately applied for a United States passport. In my old country they often discourage people from pursuing their dreams. Here, people appreciate me and encourage me. I like being an American. Here I feel free, like I can be myself.