First Karen Member Gains Citizenship
Monday, May 27, 2013
As a political refugee in a war torn country where you are forced to leave your homeland or face execution, the ever looming fear of finding safety and protection for you, your family and even your fellow countrymen wears heavy on your heart and mind. For Joe Soe, these thoughts and visions were a daily part of his life. Spending years as a Karen freedom fighter in the jungles of Thailand, Joe Soe did his best to bring safety and protection to Karen civilians who were being tortured and slaughtered by the Burmese government. Joe Soe was well aware what freedom meant, but at that time he had no idea where it could be found.
Joe Soe's mission as a freedom fighter was later interrupted as his mastery of the martial arts granted him extensive travel as an international kick boxing competitor, but when Joe Soe was finally given the opportunity to seek his own sovereignty, he left the refugee camp in September of 2005 and made his way to Minnesota. Upon arrival in St. Paul, Joe Soe took employment at GK Laundry. Eventually Joe Soe was recruited by Mark "Smoky" Heuston, the Director of Human Resource, at Dakota Provisions and became the plants first Karen employee. With his new employment commitment, Joe Soe moved from St Paul on August 1st, 2007 and became the first Karen resident of Huron. Bringing his "firsts" to a total of three, Joe Soe joined the Credit Union and also became the first Karen member at Dakotaland.
It was important to Joe Soe to be accepted in his new community so he worked hard at his job, learned as much as he could about living in the United States and soon became a leader and teacher for the new Karen families that were quickly relocating to Huron. The fact Joe Soe speaks Thai, Karen, Burmese, and English, made it easy for him to become a resource for many needing assistance and guidance. "In the early years, I relied heavily on Joe Soe to interpret and help train our Karen employees." declared Heuston.
In the summer of 2011, Joe Soe began attending citizenship classes on Sunday nights at the First Baptist Church in Huron. Smoky Heuston coordinated with Pastor Marc Anderson to provide classroom space and Drew Anderson, also of Huron, agreed to teach the sessions. "I thoroughly enjoyed discussing politics, history, culture, and geography of our great country with the students." commented Anderson. Joe Soe found the instruction he was receiving very interesting and decided to approach his teacher about his dream to pass the citizenship test and receive a passport to visit his family in Burma. At this point, Joe Soe had not seen his family in five years. Drew was so inspired by his student's commitment and desire to become an American citizen he dedicated the next year to assisting Joe Soe in preparation of the naturalization process. "I was astonished how well he absorbed all the information considering he had no idea who George Washington or Abraham Lincoln were when we started." added Anderson.
Every year hundreds of thousands of people become U.S. citizens at naturalization ceremonies across the country. By taking the Oath of Allegiance new citizens pledge to be faithful to the Constitution and to serve their new country when needed. Naturalization is never an overnight process. It requires complicated paperwork, long wait times, and intensive interviews. "This did not deter Joe Soe in the least." stated Heuston.
Through incredible determination and commitment Joe Soe studied all 100 questions of the test, completed the stack of forms, paid his application fees, underwent investigation, passed his personal interview and on Friday, April 5th, 2013 the first Karen resident of Huron stood tall as he participated in the swearing in ceremony as a United States citizen in Sioux Falls. "With such disconsolate news about the state of our economy and politics it was refreshing to see the American Dream realized and so appreciated by individuals feeling truly blessed simply to be here." commented Anderson.
In light of his recent citizenship, Joe Soe is not only elated at his achievement and grateful for the freedom and safety he has been granted in his county, but is also very excited to vote for the first time and has already inquired about the 2014 South Dakota Senate election. In addition, Joe Soe received his US Passport on April 23rd and is making plans to return to Thailand in November to visit family and friends that he hasn't seen in over 7 years.
We can only assume Joe Soe's story is far from over and even though he doesn't know where his new found citizenship will lead him, he is quite certain that he knows now where freedom can be found.. and the road begins here.