Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part story of Daisy Waheda May, a Garden City Community College student whose family left a refugee camp in Thailand and made its way to the U.S. and Garden City, where she began her journey to become an American citizen.

 

"I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic ..."

These familiar words are associated with the oath of the presidency of the United States, but this phrase is slightly different than the presidential oath.

They are part of the oath taken when people become citizens of the United States. Garden City Community College student Daisy Waheda May recently spoke these words as she and 200 others became new citizens in a ceremony in Dodge City.

Before she came to America, she was a refugee in Thailand. May said she didn't feel like she had a home. She didn't feel like she was a citizen of the country where she was born.

But now, she feels she has earned her identity as an American citizen.

"I worked hard to become a citizen. I wear it proudly," May said.

The thing she likes best about America is that it doesn't matter if someone is rich or poor, everyone has the same opportunities, but you have to work hard to get what you want, May said.

"In some countries, if you are poor, you have to stay poor," May said. "In this country, they give you all the opportunity you need to accomplish (your goals)."

One of the challenges May still faces is English. While she speaks the language well, she still has an issue with some words. She is also adapting to the American way of life.

May was born in Thailand in a refugee camp, and her journey to the U.S. and becoming an American citizen has not been an easy one. Her mother came from Myanmar, where there was a war. Because of that, she had to keep moving from place to place to be safe. She ended up in a Thailand refugee camp. May's parents met in that camp on the northwest boarder of Myanmar and May was born there. Her birth name was Way He Da, and she was the second oldest child in a family of six children.

Life in the refugee camp was difficult. The family would scrape together whatever materials they could find, sometimes by buying, sometimes by finding such things as recyclable cans and bottles and selling them to others. They raised a few vegetables — long beans, tomatoes and corn — to eat and to sell at a morning market.

Their house was a flimsy, unstable hut made with natural materials, such as leaves and pieces of wood. The house had to be rebuilt every four years because it would fall apart. There were dirt floors and the family slept on blankets placed on the ground, May said.

"(The house) was not steady," May said. "It was scary while you are sleeping."

They did get free food — rice and salt — and once a year they got some clothes. They had two sets of clothes, a uniform for school and one for everyday. The uniforms were white shirts for boys and girls, blue pants for boys and blue skirts for girls. The colors varied with the school.

The clothing had to be reused, wearing a set one day then the other the next day. Children in preschool could wear everyday clothes to school all the time, but older students had to wear the uniform.

May said she was scared all the time in the camp because of the invaders who would attack it. When invaders came, the family would hide. May could hear the sounds of the people in the camp when the invaders attacked.

"We hid in our backyard. We heard people crying. They ran up the mountain," May said.

While it was rough in the camp, hope came from visitors from the U.S. who offered jobs and a safer life. So, working with an agency, the family came to the U.S. when May was 9. When she arrived, the only English she knew were her ABCs and how to say "sorry."

Although she was in kindergarten A in the camp, she went into the third grade when she got to America.

In 2007, her family arrived in Elizabeth, N.J., where they lived in a one-room apartment for six months. May's father had a job measuring and cutting glass to support the family.

Then they made contact with a cousin in Fort Wayne, Ind., and moved there into a two-room apartment. But there was no work for them in Indiana.

The Tyson company was recruiting in the area and said good jobs were available, so the family moved to Garden City in 2008. May's dad and sister both worked at the plant while her mother, who was pregnant, stayed home with the younger children.

Tyson helped the family locate a two-room apartment and paid the first month's rent. May's mother now works in the Tyson plant while her dad stays home with the children.

After all of the moving and changing locations, May said, it was time for her to realize her dream and become an American citizen.