Phoang Tran has lived in the United States since 2013, but the recent Independence Day weekend was the first holiday she has celebrated as a U.S. citizen.
Tran’s decision to move to Natchitoches from Vietnam began when her aunt, who already lived in the city, introduced her to a local salon owner, Steve Sanders. She describes a whirlwind romance that culminated in him proposing. “I came over Oct. 16, 2013, and he had a ring for me Dec. 25,” she says.
Any romantic notions of settling in the United States didn’t extend to the daunting process Tran faced to become a naturalized American. Her first step was to obtain her “green card,” a document establishing her as a permanent resident of the United States, that took her two years to earn. After three more years of living and working in the U.S., she began the process of becoming a citizen.
During her nearly nine years in Natchitoches, Tran began working as a beautician and now owns her own salon within A’NALA Salon, which formed when her husband’s Sweet Tea Salon partnered with Be Dazzled Salon to expand the services they could offer their clients.
As Tran maintained her career and family responsibilities, she began studying for a series of tests covering topics most U.S. citizens learn during their youth, but which proved challenging to study as an adult. The tests are waived for some older immigrants with family ties in the U.S., but Tran wanted to fulfill her dream sooner.
Once Tran felt prepared to pass the exam, she had to apply for permission to take the test, which required a new waiting period. “It took five or six months to approve the papers,” she says. She describes a battery of civics and English proficiency exams that required her to demonstrate her ability to read, write and speak in English and become familiar with the history and government of the United States.
Tran was awarded her citizenship July 1, the last government business day before Americans celebrate the founding of their country. Tran described observing Independence Day this year with traditions familiar to many Americans. She says that she spent the holiday weekend enjoying a barbecue cookout with friends and family, including three stepchildren.
Vietnam doesn’t observe Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas among other American holidays, but one Vietnamese holiday Tran continues to celebrate is the Lunar (Asian) New Year in February. Each year, she travels to Vietnam during the holiday season to spend several weeks with family and old friends, who were happy to hear her news of becoming a dual citizen.
Tran considers her annual trips as an opportunity to escape the cold weather in Natchitoches during her favorite time of year in Vietnam. She describes the climate there as “hot and hotter, rain and rainier.” Most of all, she enjoys the meals her mom prepares during her visits, which she describes as being the best southern (Vietnamese) cooking.
Tran now considers Natchitoches home, and she describes the importance of gaining her citizenship in the U.S. “I can vote, and I don’t need a visa to travel, so I have more freedom.”