A different kind of American citizen - Albuquerque Journal

A different kind of American citizen

Hari Subedi holds his infant son, Aaryan, and beams at a naming ceremony for the boy in December. Subedi won his immigration appeal and will become an American citizen on Friday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
Hari Subedi holds his infant son, Aaryan, and beams at a naming ceremony for the boy in December. Subedi won his immigration appeal and will become an American citizen on Friday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

I was taking a hike on Thanksgiving morning when my cellphone, buried in the backpack, started chirping with text messages.

“Leslie. I’m in hospital UNMH.”

“Duka is having baby today.”

“She is in labor now.”

“Happy Thanksgiving.”

The messages were from Hari Subedi, the refugee from Bhutan I had written about a month earlier when his application for United States citizenship was denied because he had mistakenly registered to vote.

On Thanksgiving morning, Subedi and his wife, Duka, produced a U.S. citizen of their own. At 10:36 a.m., they gave thanks for a healthy boy they named Aaryan. He joined his brother Aarpan.

Both of the boys have an extra “A” appended to the beginnings of their names for “America,” the country Subedi loves.

Last week, Subedi had more good news. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had heard his appeal and ruled in his favor. Subedi, a man who arrived in the United States after living for 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal, will be sworn in as a citizen in a ceremony starting at 8 a.m. Friday.

He’ll be an American, just like his sons.

Subedi had been rushing home and checking his mailbox for a month. When he called to tell me the news, he sounded relieved and breathless and beaming all at the same time.

“I’m so happy, so happy!” he said.

Subedi had help mounting his appeal. The office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall went to bat for him. And Olsi Vrapi, an immigration attorney, handled Subedi’s appeal for free. Vrapi said Subedi got entangled in a rigid immigration bureaucracy that focused on his one mistake and failed to see the totality of his achievements. When he was able to tell his life story and show that he had registered to vote by mistake, the agency saw the light.

“Hari won this on his merits,” Vrapi said. “This was one of the stronger cases that I’ve seen of somebody who really deserves citizenship – probably the strongest one.”

Most of us are accidental Americans.

We are born here, and we take for granted the luxuries, opportunities and freedoms that come with our American birthright. We pat ourselves on the back for being exceptional, forgetting that we were born with a big head start.

Subedi will be a different kind of American citizen.

He knows what it’s like to be forced from a country because the government doesn’t believe your family is of sufficient ethnic purity. He knows what it’s like to live in limbo in a refugee camp, waiting for a permanent home. And he knows what it’s like to start from scratch, new, in a new world.

When he first arrived in Albuquerque, he didn’t have a job, but he had a transit pass. So he went out every morning and rode the bus – Downtown to the university neighborhood. He watched how people ate, how they dressed, how they interacted with one another. He was learning how to be an American.

Subedi has big dreams for his family’s future. They include helping Bhutanese refugees in the United States with language and job skills, and taking what he has learned in his work with the disabled at Adelante Development Center, where he oversees the document imaging operation, back to Nepal, India and Bhutan, then maybe worldwide.

Hari works full-time at Adelante and part-time as a cashier at Wal-Mart. He works 65 hours a week. He and Duka arrived in Albuquerque with a couple of suitcases in 2008 and, in the next five years, they learned English and bought that home.

Instead of seeing his jobs or mortgage payment or household chores or community work as a burden, Subedi sees it all as an opportunity.

He prays every morning to the American flag. I have never heard him complain.

Subedi gave me a copy of his daily schedule, and it showed the only time he has free from his jobs between 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. is the hour between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. During that hour, he scheduled “make phone calls, help someone.”

Welcome to the fold, Hari. I’m proud to call you a fellow citizen.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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