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Following the path to citizenship

People around the nation celebrated their country’s independence Saturday and reminisced on what it means to live in America. For those who immigrated, what it means to become and live as an American means something different.

Harry Kumar said his father came to America from Punjab, India. In America he sponsored the rest of his family, Kumar, his mother and his sister to make the move in 1996.

“It was something new for us. We were excited; it’s a big impact, it’s a big deal for foreigners to become a citizen,” Kumar said. “It’s hard for a lot of people to do it. We were really fortunate.”

Once in America they had to become and exist as permanent residents for three years before they could apply for citizenship. Kumar said his family lived in New Jersey and Louisiana before settling down in Brookhaven in 2001.

“I didn’t know any English; it was the biggest and hardest thing for me to learn the language,” Kumar said.

He described that on his first day of school, the teacher showed him his books and desk and he just looked at her because he did not understand the language.

“There were other Indian people in the community that helped me,” he said.

During this three-year period of being permanent residents, Kumar said they could not go back to India for more than 11 months.

Kumar said because he and his younger sister were younger than 18 years old when their mother gained American citizenship they would automatically become citizens. Kumar said his mother’s citizenship process consisted of an interview, which included a test and a court day in Hattiesburg. The process concluded with a citizenship ceremony.

“She had to do a test to make sure she knew the English language and other things,” Kumar said.

His mother was asked things like who the first president was and how many stars were on the flag.

“Just simple knowledge that you should know about the country you’re living in,” he said.

Because they were both under 18, Kumar and his sister did not have to take the test but did have to attend the citizenship ceremony in Hattiesburg where they sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  At the end of the ceremony, Kumar, his mother and sister all received certificates of their citizenship to the United State of America.

“We were honored to become a U.S. citizen. We knew this was our home, and we wanted to have all our rights and be equal to everybody else,” Kumar said.

Kumar, his mother and his sister gained citizenship in November 2005 and now own the A One Stop stores throughout the city.

“We’re happy and blessed to be here,” Kumar said. “We were very supported by the people of Brookhaven, and they’ve been real respectful to us. We try to get out and do what we can for the community.”