Early in our nation’s history, American colonists created a government guaranteeing the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What if you were born in a country where you did not have those rights? Touk Phosai Varney was born in Laos where Communist rebels controlled everything from religion to what a person ate and wore. Varney and her family escaped, and with the help of friends came to America. Her father died shortly after their arrival and Varney, who was the oldest and spoke English, grew up fast taking charge of the family. She now lives in Georgia, is married, and works as a manicurist. Her little sister Oy, who was two when they arrived, is an active teenager in high school who wants to study to be a doctor. Life would be very different for Oy if the family was still in Laos. The Phosai family is typical of the million or more people who immigrate to the United States each year looking for freedom from persecution or a better life. After a swearing-in ceremony for new U.S. citizens, Fred Alexander of the U.S. Immigration Service talks about seeing his own heritage in every new face. He still gets emotional no matter how many services he has seen. Touk Phosai Varney looks forward to becoming a citizen and swears she would die for her new country.
Teacher tip: Discuss with the class the economic and cultural contributions that immigrants have made to Georgia and the United States. Use current events to examine the rights that citizens have in other countries and compare them to the United States in order to understand why our country would attract so many immigrants.