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Sketched May 20, 2015

Newspaper columnists sometimes get a lot of grief from unhappy readers. Not me! I can hardly complain.

After I shared the sketches from my naturalization ceremony earlier in the month, my inbox filled up with warm congratulatory messages from both American and foreign-born readers. To all of you, thank you for the kind words!

One of the people who wrote, Anne Trench, invited me to meet her English class for adults at the Atlantic Street Family Center in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.

Most of her students came to the U.S. as refugees, and for their last class of the year they wrote essays about their journey to America.

Loi, a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nine years, said America to him means freedom. Khadija, who fled warn-torn Somalia as a teenager in the late ’90s, said America is a safe place to raise her four children with her husband, but she misses all the siblings who still live in Somalia and Yemen, her native country.

Hearing the students’ stories was another reminder that, unlike me, not every immigrant has had the luxury of arriving to the United States with a work visa and a good job. I have never experienced what it must be like to come to the United States without knowing any English.

Trench said her students are her heroes. “I consider them to be like the pioneers of old leaving everything behind to travel in Conestoga wagons to a better life. Today they come on airplanes but they still leave everything behind!”