Living the Dream: The Joys of Becoming an American Citizen

By Angela Lindsay

For those of us born in the United States, we may sometimes take our citizenship for granted. However, for the hundreds of thousands of people who are naturalized as citizens of this country every year, it can be the most exciting moment of their lives. That is the sentiment shared by Rohit Ghule and his wife Neha when he describes how they felt last July 4th during the naturalization ceremony at the Charlotte Museum of History (CMH).

For eight years now, the CMH has hosted a naturalization ceremony on Independence Day beginning in 2015 (with the exception of a one-year covid interruption). While the museum is not formally a part of the official naturalization process, as that is the domain of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), this local tradition is something they look forward to each year, according to Charlotte Museum of History President and CEO, Terri L. White.

“It’s important for several reasons. First, we are a museum that focuses on American history, so celebrating those who have done the work and chosen to become a part of that story is vitally important to our mission,” said White. “Second, we want everyone to feel welcomed and to Charlotte and we want them to associate us with a place they can feel comfortable and seen. We’d love for them to return and bring their families back with them and participate in our public programs and exhibits.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) welcomed 878,500 new citizens in fiscal year 2023 during naturalization ceremonies held across the U.S. and around the world, according to USCIS.

The CMH participates by offering a program with guest speakers and entertainment for the newest citizens and their families. The day includes musical performances, such as the singing of the national anthem, as well as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, watching videos from government officials and hearing remarks from the USCIS and a local speaker who works with or represents the immigrant community in some capacity, White explained. The event is free and open to the public.

While both of their children were born here, the Ghules are natives of India and came to the U.S. in September 2012. They were naturalized in North Carolina in the summer of 2023, after a long 11-year journey which began with a road trip to Las Vegas in 2011 from when they lived in Canada. 

“We felt love for the country, people, freedom, and much more,” said Ghule. “In 2012, we went to India and applied for the L-1A managerial visa. It took 2-3 months from start to end and almost a month after we landed at our new home. The visa process was challenging, and a lot of documentation was needed, then an interview, and so on. We enjoyed every small step during this process.”

Ghule initially arrived in the U.S. to work in Delaware and eventually landed in Charlotte through Accenture, working as an information systems manager supporting U.S. operations for large utilities companies like Exelon Energy and Duke Energy. After a couple of years, the Ghules bought their first U.S. home in Charlotte. 

“Charlotte has a diversified culture, a banking hub, a major Indian community, (the Panthers football team), an American (Airlines) hub, a short drive to mountains or beaches. So, it was a dream place to settle down,” he said. 

In 2017, the Ghules applied for green cards which they received on the first day of 2018. In December 2022, they submitted documents to obtain U.S. citizenship.

The Ghule’s complex naturalization experience isn’t unique. Becoming a citizen of America was a “challenging and taxing process” requiring meticulous documentation of every detail of Malaysia native Noel Somasundram’s 43-year stay in the U.S. before he finally obtained citizenship. 

“This experience felt tedious and stressful, requiring thorough attention to ensure all requirements were met and all aspects of my residency were accounted for,” Somasundram explains. 

Somasundramdecided to come to the U.S. in 1980 because of his fascination with American culture and his interest in TV shows like Dallas and Peyton Place during his teenage years. He says that while the prospect of new experiences in an unfamiliar land sparked excitement, the unknown made him feel curious about what lay ahead. Despite these mixed emotions, Somasundram was ready to embark on a journey of exploration.

“This fascination, coupled with the reputation of the U.S. as a hub for engineering and technology since the 1970s, led me to choose the U.S. as the destination to pursue my engineering studies,” he shares.

In 2019, Somasundram was offered employment by ConMet of Amsted Industries in Canton, North Carolina and eventually settled in Charlotte, near ConMet’s Monroe, North Carolina branch. Still, his most cherished accomplishment eluded him for decades. 

Recognizing the importance of professional guidance in navigating the complexities of immigration law, Somasundram’s wife found an immigration lawyer in Charlotte at Patel & Samatova, PLLC, who provided “invaluable support and expertise” and ultimately facilitated a successful naturalization process for him, which culminated in 6 months on July 4, 2023.

“It was a moment of great honor and joy as I embraced my new status as an American citizen,” said Somasundram of the CMH ceremony. “The significance of becoming a citizen on this historic day, 4th of July 2023, added to the emotions, highlighting the values of freedom, democracy and opportunity that America stands for.”

Ghule said he and his wife feel proud to be U.S. citizens, adding that the first thing they did afterward was apply for “the most powerful document — U.S. passports.” They also cherish their right to vote now, he said.

As a new U.S. citizen, the first thing Somasundram did was purchase a U.S. flag and proudly display it at the front of his house. 

“My wife and I adorned our home with decorations representing American Independence Day, creating a festive atmosphere. Later that night, we celebrated the 4th of July with a memorable dinner and fireworks display on Lake Wylie surrounded by neighbors and the spirit of patriotism,” he said.

The most significant aspect of his new status as an American citizen is the profound sense of belonging and identity it offers, Somasundram said. “As an American citizen, I am granted invaluable rights, opportunities and responsibilities that enable me to … make positive contributions to this nation.”

Despite the lengthy procedure and laborious paperwork, both Ghule and Somasundram maintain the process is worth it for anyone who dreams about becoming an American citizen.

“I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone considering immigrating to the U.S. because it’s known as the land of opportunities, freedom and liberation,” Somasundram said. “I would share my experiences of the beauty of this country and the opportunities it offers for personal and professional growth.”

“Nowadays, immigration is a time-consuming process due to laws or rule(s) chang(ing) frequently, a big wait time, family challenges, etc. If you trust yourself, the U.S. immigration process, and you are patient, you will be the next citizen,” Ghule said.

Although the naturalization ceremony at the CMH is to honor and celebrate the newest citizens, White invites the entire community to come out and share in the celebration. She said, attendees will learn a little bit about how the country’s immigration process works and also “make people feel really special on their big day.”

“Becoming a citizen of the U.S. has provided me with a sense of security, freedom, independence and assurance,” Somasundram said. “I feel empowered knowing that I have the rights and privileges afforded to citizens, allowing me to fully participate in society and pursue opportunities without limitations.”